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Addressing the Problem of Forced Child Pregnancy in Argentina

Equality Now joined five Argentine women’s and children’s rights organizations in Washington, DC to urge the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to take action to protect girls from sexual violence and forced pregnancy in Argentina.

On Friday, September 27th, 2019 representatives of Equality Now, ANDHES, Argentine Committee of the Coalition of Child and Adolescent Rights (Colectivo de Derechos de la Infancia y la Adolecencia), Argentine Committee for the Monitoring and Application of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (CASACIDN), CLADEM Argentina, and Latin American and Caribbean Network for the defense of the rights of girls, boys, and adolescents (REDLAMYC) testified in front of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that Argentina is failing to live up to its obligations under international and regional human rights law when it comes to accessing legal abortion for victims of sexual violence, particularly young girls. 

Part of the impetus for the hearing was the high-profile case of Lucía, an 11-year old girl who became pregnant after being raped and was forced to give birth by Cesarean section this past March after Argentine authorities refused to allow her the abortion to which she was legally entitled, and which she requested. Sadly, Lucía’s case is neither unique nor isolated. Read more about Lucía’s case in this Independent Article.

The Problem

Tens of thousands of girls in the region become pregnant after being raped every year, according to CLADEM research covering 14 countries.

Abortion has been legal in Argentina since 1921 in cases of rape or where the health or life of the mother is at risk, but Argentina’s provincial structure has meant that many of the more conservative provinces have failed to comply with national law and protocols regarding access to legal abortions, erecting insurmountable obstacles for women and girls who seek them. These include:

  • absence of protocols for access to legal abortion in certain jurisdictions, or failure to apply the National Protocol,
  • lack of access to education and information for girls and adolescents regarding comprehensive sexuality education (CSE),
  • actions supported by the anti-rights movement, for example holding vigils and manifestations in hospitals where victims of sexual violence are waiting for a legal abortion,
  • actions to deliberately prolong the passage of time so that pregnancies continue to develop beyond the point where an abortion can be performed,
  • denial of abortion services by public authorities and doctors at public hospitals,
  • persuasion or coercion of pregnant girls to continue with their forced pregnancies.

Representatives of Equality Now and the Argentine civil society organizations outlined these problems for the commissioners, and went on to show why forced child pregnancy should be considered torture.

“We say that forced pregnancy in girl victims of sexual violence is torture, and this is supported by precedent of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the cases of Bueno Alves vs. Argentina, and of the CDH in the LMR ruling.”

Fernanda Marchese of ANDHES

They also explained that the failures of the State to evenly enforce national law disproportionately affects poor people, and highlighted the gender discrimination inherent in forced pregnancy.

“The State used Lucía’s body to make her carry a pregnancy against her will and to force her to be a mother, because of gender. Forced motherhood annuls girls’ self-determination and makes them mere instruments.”

Celia Debono of CLADEM Argentina

They also reminded the State that forced pregnancy and access to legal abortion are first and foremost issues of law, and of rights.

“National laws shouldn’t be subject to the feelings and beliefs of provincial officials.”

Nora Pulido of the Argentine Committee of the Coalition of Child and Adolescent Rights

Finally, they concluded by asking the Commission to:

  • Make an on-site visit to the provinces that do not adhere to the legal abortion protocols
  • Recognize forced child pregnancy as cruel, inhuman treatment and torture.
  • Urge the State of Argentina to:
    • recognize under criminal law that forced pregnancy of girls under 14 years of age is a form of torture
    • include a focus on childhood in the legal abortion Protocol
    • take urgent measures to avoid judicial harassment, persecution, and discipline of doctors who perform legal abortions
    • eradicate the institutional violence by the state by failing to guarantee access to legal abortion
    • address the prevention of sexual violence through an intersectional lens
    • require the implementation of the Micaela law and the accession by the provinces
    • collect statistics with disaggregated data on pregnancies, prenatal care, and abortions of girls under 14 years of age

Response from the State

The representatives of the State began their response by providing a fairly extensive overview of the evolution of Argentina’s national law regarding legal abortion, including clarifications made to the 1921 law, and the development of various guidelines and the 2015 National Protocol for the treatment of persons with a right to legal abortion. They acknowledged that the Protocol is not followed equally in all provinces, and that some provinces don’t have any protocol at all.

They went on to detail some of the State’s specific responses to Lucía’s case, and mentioned that their investigation indicated that there was institutional violence in Lucía’s case and admitted that the State of Tucumán province violated Lucia’s rights.

They also named some broader projects and government plans aimed at improving protections for girls, and reducing barriers to access to legal abortion for those who have a right to it.

“We are working on ensuring that girls’ and adolescents’ rights are respected regardless of where they live.”

representative of Argentina’s National Institute of Women

Reaction from the Commissioners

The Commissioners immediately pressed the State for further detail on the proposed projects and plans, and the State committed to send them more information. They also reminded the State that Argentina’s form of government is no defense for the unequal protection of rights.

“The responsibility of the State isn’t removed because of separation of powers or a federal structure.”

Commissioner Flavia Piovesan

The Commissioners were particularly upset by the fact that so many cases of forced pregnancy following sexual violence involve young girls, and felt that this creates even more urgency for the issue to be addressed properly by the State.

“We’re talking about girls who are 10, 11, 12 years old. Any sexual relations with young girls counts as rape. When there is a pregnancy, we must remember that girl has been victim of a crime.”

IACHR President, Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitino

“This is not a complicated matter at all. Children are children, and must be allowed to be children, not forced to do adult things like bear children. And no one has the right to decide otherwise.”

Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay