From the streets to international litigation: they are girls, not mothers

Fatima, Lucia, Norma, Camila and Susana are five girls from Latin America who share the terrible experience of being sexually abused by someone close to their family and loved ones, as well as becoming pregnant as a result of the abuse. The five were also faced with the denial of being able to terminate their pregnancies and therefore living through forced motherhood. All of them saw their present and future plans marred first by the violence of their aggressor and later by the state that turned its back on them. No one had access to justice either.

These five stories are as painful as they are unique and personal, but they also embody a reality that haunts the entire region. In Latin America, thousands of girls under the age of 15 are sexually abused and forced to become mothers due to restrictive abortion laws in many countries; in fact, it is the only region in the world where pregnancies in this age group have shown a steady increase over the years. Lack of access to basic health services and multiple violations of girls’ human rights is a constant that represents a serious problem that disrupts their present and future: the consequences they face are physical, emotional and social.

In 2016, Amnesty International, the Latin American Consortium Against Unsafe Abortion (CLACAI), the Information Group on Reproductive Choice (GIRE) and Planned Parenthood Global joined forces to launch the Girls Not Mothers campaign. We were determined to make visible this serious public health and human rights issue prevalent in Latin America, as well as highlight the lack of protection for Latin American girls. It was a call to society and the countries of the region to fulfill their obligation to ensure the protection of girls’ rights.

We wanted to put the impact of forced pregnancy on the lives and health of girls in Latin America on the public agenda and promote the urgency and relevance of society, media and governments to focus on actions that from their trenches depend on them to eradicate and address this problem. The facts were (and still are) staggering.

#NiñasNoMadres has become a regional movement in favor of the rights of Latin American girls, reaching the streets, social networks, media, governments and various international bodies. But the noise in all these spaces is not enough to change reality.

Fatima, Lucia, Norma and Susanna decided not to remain silent or accept their fate; raised their voices and, hand in hand with the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Center for the Promotion and Protection of Sexual and Reproductive Rights (Promsex), Women Transforming the World in Guatemala (MTM), Planned Parenthood Global, the Observatory of Sexual and Reproductive Health of Guatemala (OSAR) and Surkuna Ecuador presented their stories to the UN Human Rights Committee, where they want to condemn the countries of Guatemala, Ecuador and Nicaragua for the lack of justice and the violation of their human rights. Also added in 2020 was Camila from Peru, who was denied an abortion and although she later miscarried and her pregnancy did not reach term, she presented her case to the Committee on the Rights of the Child to waive the Condition.

But more importantly, they are clear that they hope their stories can be the cutting edge of standards to be set by the Human Rights Committee in relation to the prevention of violence against girls. They are the protagonists of this simultaneous international litigation, which began in 2019 and is expected to bring public attention back to this issue, acknowledge that human rights violations have been committed, and set standards for governments to take action to prevent and change the global landscape of access to justice in relation to sexual violence.

The realities are very different in our region: while in some countries the discussion is already focused on strategies to completely decriminalize abortion and achieve full access to health services for all, in others abortion rights are not guaranteed. access to abortions in cases of sexual violence. Hence the importance of this litigation for states to fulfill their duty to protect the health, life and rights of girls.

On the International Day of the Girl, we want to remember these stories and hope that the hopes and wishes for justice of those girls who were once Fatima, Lucia, Norma, Camila and Susanna will come true and that motherhood will be recognized rape of girls as a violation of human rights.

We also want to invite their stories to be known and from the trenches to every person reading this to join in raising their voices with them. From the They Are Girls, Not Mothers movement, proposes concrete actions for governments, advertising agencies, media, civil society, healthcare providers, international cooperation; and also some that anyone can do:

* Brenda Rodriguez (@mothernidades) is the Communications Coordinator at GIRE.

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