Human rights: Paraguay has failed to protect a 10-year old girl child who became pregnant after being raped, say UN experts

United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

GENEVA (11 May 2015)

 A group of United Nations human rights experts* today said that the Government of Paraguay has failed in its responsibility to act with due diligence in the case a 10-year old girl child, who has been refused access to treatments to save her life and preserve her health, including safe and therapeutic abortion in a timely manner.

The girl child’s 23-week pregnancy, established about three weeks ago, is the result of repeated sexual abuse allegedly perpetrated by a close relative. Abortion law in Paraguay is restrictive and only authorises the termination of a pregnancy when the life of the woman or the girl is at serious risk. It does not provide any other exceptions, especially in cases of rape, incest or unviable foetus.

“The Paraguayan authorities’ decision results in grave violations of the rights to life, to health, and to physical and mental integrity of the girl as well as her right to education, jeopardising her economic and social opportunities”, the experts warned.

“Despite requests made by the girl’s mother and medical experts to terminate this pregnancy which puts the girl’s life at risk, the State has failed to take measures to protect the health as well as the physical and mental integrity and even the life of the 10-year old girl,” they said. “No proper interdisciplinary and independent expert assessment with the aim to insure the girl’s best interests was carried out before overturning life-saving treatments, including abortion.”

According to the World Health Organisation, child pregnancies are extremely dangerous for the health of the pregnant girl and may lead to complications and death in some cases. The bodies of young girls are not fully developed to carry on with a pregnancy, the experts recalled.

In Latin America, the risk of maternal death is four times higher among adolescents under 16 years old. 65% of cases of obstetric fistula occur in the pregnancies of adolescents, with serious consequences for their lives, resulting in severe health problems and social exclusion. Early pregnancies are also dangerous for the baby, with a mortality rate 50% higher.

“We welcome the decision to establish last Friday a multidisciplinary panel of experts to assess the overall health of the girl and to give an opinion on the risks and recommendations to ensure her health. We call on the Paraguayan authorities to ensure that the panel of experts, recently authorised by a judge, promptly assess in an objective and integral manner the girl’s situation, taking into account her physical and psychological health and all options available to protect her human rights,” they said.

The UN experts also urged the Government to respect the best interest of the girl child and duly fulfil its international obligations taking urgent measures to protect the life and health of this 10-year old girl, by guaranteeing her access to all necessary health care, as well as adequate reparation and rehabilitation measures.

Although the girl’s mother had reported these sexual abuses in 2014, the UN experts “deplore the authorities’ unresponsiveness to take action to prevent the reoccurrence of such abuses and deeply regret that the State has failed in its responsibility to act with due diligence and protect the child.” Furthermore, the experts expressed concern that the mother is currently detained, on allegedly unfair grounds, and is separated from the child.

It is crucial that the alleged rapist, who has just been arrested, be duly prosecuted.

(*) The experts: Ms. Emna Aouij, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, Ms. Rashida Manjoo, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Mr. Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health and Mr. Juan E. Méndez, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The United Nations human rights experts are part of what it is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.