IACHR: States and Society Must Protect Girls and Adolescents from All Forms of Violence

October 11, 2022

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Washington, D.C. – On the International Day of the Girl, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urges States to take action to end all forms of sexual violence and to reduce the high rates of forced pregnancy prevalent among girls and adolescents in the Americas. Strategic action and approaches must prioritize protection from all forms of sexual violence, ensure the exercise of girls' sexual and reproductive rights, and enable the fight against the structural causes of various forms of violence and forced pregnancies, as well as addressing the specific vulnerability girls face given both their gender and their age.

As the IACHR noted in its report , published in 2019, close to 10 million girls and adolescents become pregnant each year. The Americas have the second highest adolescent pregnancy rate and are the only region in the world with rising trends in terms of the number of births to girls below the age of 15, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA). Concerning adolescent pregnancies, PAHO estimates that up to 20% are products of sexual violence, made worse by early sexual initiation and a lack of access to information and good-quality sex education programs.

Pregnancy entails high risks for the health of girls and adolescents. PAHO data from 2020 show that complications during pregnancy and childbirth are globally the second cause of death between the ages of 15 and 19. These data not only disproportionately affect the rights to life, humane treatment, health, and privacy. They also have a serious impact on mental health, causing social isolation, self-harm, and even suicide, particularly in cases of sexual violence. This is why CEDAW says that forced pregnancy amounts to gender-based violence and is a form of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

In the Americas, social norms and patterns persist that encourage a culture of silence, covering up and justifying attackers and blaming victims, as well as making various forms of sexual violence difficult to detect. Re-victimizing and highly stigmatizing approaches lead to mistrust of the justice and healthcare systems and affect access to emergency contraception and to legal terminations of pregnancy. Public policies and protection systems with a gender perspective are therefore needed, based on the best interests of girls and adolescents, to grant them protection from all forms of sexual violence and enable them to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights.

It is also worrying that, even in cases where girls and adolescents are legally entitled to terminate their pregnancies, barriers to access persist, often grounded on gender stereotypes. Denying girls and adolescents a voluntary, safe, and timely termination of pregnancy in the situations allowed by the law is a violation of the fundamental rights of those girls and adolescents.

The IACHR calls on States to implement policies, protocols, and other instruments to ensure timely and free access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health, to emergency contraception and legal terminations of pregnancy; and to accurate, sufficient, and confidential information, protecting the affected girls and their families from all forms of harassment and violence.

The Inter-American Commission deems it essential to integrate comprehensive sex education into the school curriculum, including objective, accessible, and age-appropriate information adapted to each child's development level, in order to empower children and to ensure they know their sexual and reproductive rights. As noted by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case Guzmán Albarracín et al. v. Ecuador, good-quality sex education is also a prevention mechanism, since it grants children and adolescents the tools they need to identify risks and instances of sexual violence.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 226/22

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