BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Reproductive rights groups petitioned a United Nations agency on Wednesday on behalf of four young pregnant rape victims in Latin America, calling on the region to ease up on its restrictive abortion laws.
Due to the laws, the girls were forced to carry their unwanted pregnancies to term and became “mothers against their will,” said the petition by the U.S.-based Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood Global and other rights groups in Ecuador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
Mostly Catholic, Latin America and the Caribbean have some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, often only allowing the procedure under the most limited circumstances.
A handful of countries, mostly in Central America, have total bans on abortion, including in cases of rape or incest or when the women’s life or fetus is in danger.
The four girls from Ecuador, Guatemala and Nicaragua cited in the petition were younger than 14 when they were raped, two by relatives and one by a local parish priest, according to the rights groups.
The petition was filed before the U.N.’s Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) which monitors how and if member countries implement their commitments to human rights.
The UNHCR can issue non-binding resolutions and recommendations to pressure countries to improve their human rights record and change their laws.
The rights groups hope the petition will put a spotlight on how stringent abortion laws affect girls’ health and contribute to high teenage pregnancy rates among rape victims.
“Too many young girls in Latin America, and around the world, have been put in situations that threaten their rights and put their lives at risk because they are not able to access abortion care,” said Leana Wen, head of Planned Parenthood Global and Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
“Forcing young girls to continue a pregnancy no matter their circumstances or wants, is not only cruel, but will have devastating impacts for them, their families, and their communities,” she said in a statement.
The issue of abortion deeply divides Latin America, where the influential Roman Catholic Church and evangelical groups say abortion is sin and that laws must protect unborn children.
In both Ecuador and Guatemala, about 5,000 girls age 10 to 14 give birth every year, while in Peru four girls under 15 give birth every day, the rights groups said.
Pro-choice activists point to the dangers of illegal abortion, especially among young girls, and say young girls who are pregnant or give birth are more likely to die than older pregnant women.
“The failure of states to guarantee reproductive rights is a clear violation of human rights,” said Nancy Northup, head of the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org