Preteen Mother’s Dangerous Labor Revives Concerns About Abortion Rights in Paraguay

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According to the World Health Organization, the risk of maternal death increases four-fold in girls under the age of 16, compared with mothers older than 20. Photo: Flickr / Philippe, Creative Commons.

Every year, hundreds of pro-choice protesters and women's rights activists take to the streets in Asunción in a demonstration against the criminalization of abortion. This year, the number of protesters nearly doubled, as the case of 11-year-old Mainumby brought the taboo of abortion back into focus.

Known for legal purposes simply as Mainumby, the young girl from Paraguay was only 10-years-old when she became pregnant after being repeatedly raped by her stepfather. Refused an abortion by the Paraguayan government, Mainumby was forced to endure nine months of pregnancy before her baby was born earlier this summer. Paraguayan officials insisted that the child did not qualify for an abortion, as her life was not in danger.

The 11-year-old gave birth in a hospital run by the Red Cross in the country's capital, Asunción. The baby was delivered by Cesarean section, as doctor's feared a natural birth would be too dangerous for such a young girl. Thankfully, both Mainumby and her daughter are in a stable condition, although only time will tell what effect such a traumatic experience will have on the young mother.

In Paraguay, as well as in the majority of Latin American countries, abortion is illegal. The law dictates that an abortion can only be performed when the mother's life is considered to be at risk. Authorities decided that Mainumby's pregnancy was not life-threatening and the physical and emotional trauma that she would suffer was not taken into consideration.

According to the World Health Organization, the risk of maternal death increases four-fold in girls under the age of 16, compared to those over 20. The physical and emotional issues that accompany bearing a child are also significantly higher.

Erika Guevara, the Americas director at Amnesty International, warns that Mainumby is lucky to be alive:

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” – Erika Guevara, Americas director at Amnesty International

Mainumby's story has brought to light the injustice and inequality that causes suffering for many people across the country. The anti-abortion law has the biggest impact on the poorest members of society. If the young girl were from a wealthy family, she would have been able to cross the border or go to a private clinic, where the procedure could be carried out illegally but safely. Unfortunately for Mainumby, her family did not have the means to escape Paraguayan laws, and she was forced to put her life in jeopardy.

Amnesty International's Gueverra also questions the representation of women in the country. “Paraguay’s repressive abortion laws are rooted in ingrained discrimination against women and girls. The country’s legal system—and sectors of society—appear to view women as little more than child bearers.” The anti-abortion law denies a woman the right to decide what happens to her own body. In taking away the right to choose an abortion, Gueverra argues that the Paraguayan authorities are displaying a lack of respect for a woman's authority over her own body. This, she says, suggests that the state regards “traditional and outdated dogmas” as more important than a young girl's life.

Paraguay is a predominantly Catholic country, with 89 percent of adults belonging to the Roman Catholic Church. It is perfectly possible, if not likely, that the majority of women in Paraguay would choose not to abort an unwanted pregnancy, as they believe that life begins at conception.

Organizations such as Avaaz and Amnesty International have staged campaigns and organized petitions in favor of legalizing abortion for girls under fifteen. The authorities, however, have refused to budge.

Women took to Twitter to express their solidarity for young Mainumby, and the hashtag #niñaenpeligro (#girlindanger) was created in a protest against the decision.

#GirlinDanger Paraguayan authorities, acknowledge that the abortion of a young girl who has been raped is a basic human right

And when will the Pope share his views on the #girlindanger from Paraguay, raped and pregnant at the age of 11 and not allowed to have an abortion?

The case of Mainumby is all too common, not only in Paraguay but throughout Latin America. This month marks three years since 16-year-old “Esperancita” died of leukemia after being denied treatment in the Dominican Republic because she was pregnant. Since the teenage girl's tragic death, the Dominican Republic have changed its laws, now allowing abortion in certain extreme cases.

Paraguayan authorities insist that they are working to combat the issue of child abuse and underage pregnancy, and there is talk within the government of raising the sentence for abusing a minor. However, Paula Avila-Guillen, the advocacy adviser for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Right, insists that the country should focus on doing more for the victim with “an abortion law that puts women and girls first.”

According to official figures, two girls between the ages of 10 and 14 give birth every day in Paraguay, mostly because of sexual abuse by relatives at home.

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