An 11-year-old girl in Paraguay who became pregnant after being raped by her stepfather — and whose case sparked international outrage after Paraguayan officials rejected her request for an abortion — has given birth to a daughter.
International human rights groups say that, while the girl and her newborn are both healthy, the birth highlights the fact that Paraguay’s current abortion ban is much too stringent and must be amended.
In Paraguay, abortion is illegal except in very rare cases when the procedure is deemed necessary to save a woman’s life. Government officials claimed that the 11-year-old girl, referred to with the pseudonym “Mainumby” in legal documents, was not in danger from her pregnancy — even though medical experts say that young adolescents under the age of 15 are at far higher risk for medical complications during childbirth.
Mainumby’s child was delivered via Cesarean section because doctors determined that a vaginal birth would be too dangerous.
Paraguay’s decision to deny an abortion to Mainumby, who became pregnant when she was raped at just 10 years old, was subject to intense international scrutiny. In May, several United Nations officials criticized Paraguay for failing to “act with due diligence” to protect the girl. In June, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights tried to pressure the Paraguayan government to change its mind. Amnesty International also launched a petition calling on officials to reverse course, saying that Paraguay’s denial of Mainumby’s reproductive rights was akin to torture.
Erika Guevara, the Americas Director at Amnesty International, said in a statement that her organization is glad to hear that Mainumby and her child are healthy, but noted that “only time will tell the true extent of the physical and psychological consequences of her tragic ordeal.”
“The fact that ‘Mainumby’ did not die does not excuse the human rights violations she suffered at the hands of the Paraguayan authorities, who decided to gamble with her health, life and integrity despite overwhelming evidence that this pregnancy was extremely risky and despite the fact that she was a rape-victim and a child,” Guervara added.
Not every girl is as lucky. According to the World Health Organization, girls in Latin America who give birth before they turn 16 years old are four times more likely to die during childbirth than young women in their twenties. The United Nations estimates that 700,000 adolescents in developing countries die each year from unsafe childbirth. In Paraguay specifically, 28 minors died last year from complications that resulted from giving birth.
Latin America is home to five of only seven countries worldwide in which abortion is absolutely prohibited by law, even in cases where the woman’s life is at risk: Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic. Only three countries — Cuba, Uruguay, and parts of Mexico — allow first trimester abortion upon request, while the rest of the continent has criminalized abortion in all but extreme circumstances, such as cases involving rape, incest, or the life of the mother. Even in these cases, however, abortion remains effectively inaccessible for most women due to legal and practical barriers.
The consequences of these regressive laws are devastating: high maternal mortality and morbidity rates due to unsafe abortions that disproportionately affect poor and young women. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that a staggering 12% of all maternal deaths in Latin America are caused by unsafe abortion — a figure that rises to over 30% in the countries with the strictest abortion bans. And if they survive, desperate women who attempt to end a pregnancy in these countries often end up in prison on charges of murdering their unborn children. Even women who suffer miscarriages, stillbirths, and other pregnancy complications have been thrown in jail for decades under suspicion of committing “abortion crimes.”
Research shows that countries with restrictive abortion policies do not have lower rates of abortion — they just have lower rates of safe abortion. At least four million illegal abortions take place in Latin America every year, one of the highest documented rates of unsafe abortion in the world.