Health found 1,363 pregnant girls and only 253 agreed to legal termination of pregnancy

From January to August this year, 253 girls who were victims of sexual abuse and whose health was at risk agreed to legal termination of pregnancy (ILE). The figure is still low compared to the 1,363 child pregnancies detected by the public health system, which – because of the age of the pregnant women, 14 years or less – must be considered the product of rape.

The figures correspond to a review by Page Seven of the Ministry of Health’s National Health Information and Epidemiological Surveillance System (SNIS-VE) conducted between October 3 and 5.

“We have no data on how many did or did not (enter ILE), but – according to SNIS – we have data that 253 procedures were performed on children under the age of 15. We understand that this is a high number, but it is still below the needs of women, given the high rates of sexual violence in the country,” said Executive Director of the Women’s Coordinator Tanya Sanchez.

In Bolivia so far this year, the General Prosecutor’s Office has registered 8,078 complaints of sexual violence. Of these, 2,085 complaints were for the rape of children and adolescents and 1,263 for rape.

According to SNIS, by August, 676 women of various ages and from nine departments of the country had access to ILE. 311 is the hotline for victims of sexual assault.

The IEL in girls under 15 years old reaches 253. Eight register as a risk to the health of the pregnant woman.

Constitutional Decision 206/2014 is in force in the country, which gives the right to impunity termination of pregnancy on three grounds: rape, statutory rape or incest; risk to women’s health and congenital malformations incompatible with life.

In the case of sexual assault, it has been established that the procedure should be carried out by simply presenting a copy of the complaint and the request for the procedure. There is no time limit and the health personnel have the duty to ensure access to the service. “There is still a very strong ignorance of the verdict. In addition, health facilities do not have the conditions to carry out these specialized procedures, except that there is a delay in the procedure due to the conscientious objection of the health personnel, which limits the free, free and safe access of women and girls who are victims of sexual violence,” explained Sanchez .

According to a report by the Office of the Ombudsman published in 2020, at least 32 cases (between 2015 and 2019) were registered in the country in which access to the ILE was prevented or barriers were placed to its implementation. Of the registered cases, 10 are related to violations by health officials, four to the negligence of the prosecutor’s office, three to obstacles by the municipal administrations, two to the ineffectiveness of the ombudsmen and one to poor work by the police.

The report also found, based on an inspection of 44 second- and third-level hospitals, that there are no guarantees for the full exercise of sexual and reproductive rights in Bolivia. In 32 state hospitals there is no special room for ILE, there is a lack of equipment, medicines and trained staff. Likewise, there is ignorance of the norm and prejudice in the actors involved. Only 8% of the health staff within the 44 consulted hospitals knew the grounds for termination of pregnancy.

An example of this reality is the low number of ILEs compared to the number of registered child pregnancies in the country.

In eight months, 1,363 pregnant girls were found in various medical centers in the country: 874 entered the health system before the fifth month of pregnancy and 489 after. A total of 505 girls had four antenatal examinations, so they were considered to have continued the pregnancy.

However, because SNIS birth and maternal mortality records are not disaggregated by age, the conditions under which girls gave birth, whether they had complications during birth, or whether there were live births are unknown. There is no record of the remaining 805 girls who confirmed their pregnancy but did not go for further check-ups.

The Belem to Pará Convention – an OAS body to prevent, punish and eradicate violence against women – to which Bolivia is a party, stipulates that any pregnancy of minors under the age of 14 must be considered the product of sexual violence. States therefore have an obligation to provide specialist care, investigate attacks and provide access to termination of pregnancy.

“In the case of girls, it’s assumed that if they’re pregnant, it’s because they’ve been raped or statutory rape. Many of them don’t even know they’ve been molested or that they’re pregnant,” Sanchez said.

According to the above, any detected pregnancy of a child should have been treated as a case of sexual harassment, but in practice this does not happen.

The Department of Health’s Sexual Assault Victim Care and ILE protocols set out procedures from pregnancy detection to ILE approach. In addition to detecting STIs and providing psychological support.

“This procedure is one that, whether through ignorance, conscientious objection or the interference of conservative groups, is not being properly implemented,” he said.

He added that there are also gaps in the socialization of the exercise of sexual and reproductive rights.

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