October 11, 2022
Washington, DC – On the International Day of the Girl Child, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is calling on states to take action to end all forms of sexual violence and reduce the high rates of forced pregnancy of girls and adolescents in the region. Strategic actions and approaches must prioritize protection against all forms of sexual violence, guaranteeing the exercise of their sexual and reproductive rights and addressing the structural causes that generate the various forms of violence and forced pregnancy; as well as to address the specific situation of vulnerability they face due to their status as girls and their age.
As highlighted by the IACHR in the report Violence and Discrimination against Women, Girls and Adolescents published in 2019, around 10 million girls and adolescents become pregnant each year. The Region of the Americas has the second highest rate of teenage pregnancy and is the only one with an upward trend in the number of births to girls under the age of 15, as indicated by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the United Nations Population Fund ( UNFPA). In the case of teenage pregnancy, PAHO has estimated that up to 20% are the result of sexual violence, which is exacerbated by early initiation of sex life, lack of access to information and quality sex education programs.
Pregnancy poses a high risk to the health of girls and adolescents. PAHO data from 2020 shows that complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the second leading cause of death worldwide among 15-19 year olds. Not only do they have a disproportionate impact on the rights to life, privacy, health and privacy; They also generate serious mental health consequences, causing social isolation, self-harm and even suicide, especially in cases of sexual abuse. Therefore, the CEDAW Committee finds that forced pregnancy constitutes gender-based violence and is equivalent to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
In our region, there are still social norms and models that foster a culture of silence, that cover up and justify the aggressors and blame the victims; make different forms of sexual violence invisible. Approaches to re-victimization with a high degree of stigma generate distrust in the justice or health system and affect access to emergency contraception or legal termination of pregnancy. It is therefore necessary to implement gender-responsive public policies and protection systems based on the best interests of girls and adolescents, guaranteeing them protection against all forms of sexual violence and the exercise of their sexual rights.
It is also alarming that even in cases where girls and adolescents have legally guaranteed access to abortion, barriers to access persist, often based on gender stereotypes. Denial of voluntary, safe and timely termination of pregnancy under legally permitted circumstances constitutes a violation of the fundamental rights of girls and adolescents.
The IACHR urges States to implement policies, protocols and other tools to ensure access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health, methods of emergency contraception and legal termination of pregnancy, in a timely and free manner; and accurate, sufficient, confidential information and protection of girls and their families from all forms of harassment and violence.
Similarly, the Inter-American Commission considers it extremely important to introduce comprehensive sexuality education into the curriculum, which includes objective information available according to the age of each girl and boy and adapted to their level of development; in such a way that empowerment is promoted and they know the content of sexual and reproductive rights. As the Inter-American Court of Human Rights pointed out in Guzmán Albarracín et al. Ecuador, quality sex education is also a prevention mechanism, as it gives children and adolescents the tools to identify the risks and situations of sexual violence.
The IACHR is the principal and autonomous organ of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate derives from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote the observance and protection of human rights in the region and acts as an advisory body to the OAS on the matter. The IACHR consists of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.