During Peru's internal armed conflict, in which the State fought against subversive terrorist groups from 1980 to 2000, the then-President Alberto Fujimori's government (July 28, 1990 – November 22, 2000) implemented a series of policies to reduce the country's birth rate.
This involved the forced sterilization of an estimated 270,000 women and 22,000 men, most of whom were from the indigenous and poor rural population groups. To this day, the survivors of these sterilisations continue to fight for justice and to ensure that their stories are not forgotten. However, this has been a slow process, one which according to María Esther Mogollón, a spokeswoman for the Association of Peruvian Women Affected by Forced Sterilizations, is due to “little political will and a lack of understanding of what human rights are.”
Some 20 years later, in 2020 and 2021, you would think that these reproductive control measures have come to an end. However, this is not the case. Control of women's bodies in Peru now centres on sexual violence and the criminalization of abortion.
In 2020, there was a 12 per cent increase in unwanted pregnancies in Peru, which were predominantly in teenage girls. What's more, there were more than 13,840 reported cases of sexual violence, 43 per cent of which were adolescent victims between the ages of 12 and 17 and 20.7 per cent of victims were girls between 6 and 11 years of age.
In this regard, more than one in every 10 teenage girls has been pregnant at some point. The figures are higher in rural areas of the country, where more than one in five girls under the age of 18 becomes pregnant. In 2020, the number of girls under the age of 10 who were forced to become mothers in Peru tripled, which is a direct consequence of the spike in sexual violence seen during the pandemic.
Elga Prado Vasquez, coordinator of the Sexuality and Bodily Autonomy Program of the Manuela Ramos Movement, told me over the phone that the pandemic left the most vulnerable population groups even more defenseless than before. As part of the country's lockdown measures, the Peruvian State closed essential services, and the health care system’s failures were exacerbated. Many girls, teenagers and women were left to fend for themselves in situations of physical and sexual violence within their own homes. Although there is no longer a mandatory lockdown in Peru and public services have reopened, it is worrying to think about what the figures will be if a lockdown is implemented in the future.
To aggravate this situation, unsafe abortions are now the third leading cause of maternal death in Peru, according to the feminist non-governmental organization PROMSEX. Women of all socioeconomic and educational levels have abortions. However, according to a study on abortions in adult women, people from the middle and lower economic strata, and those who have secondary education and higher education levels, are more likely to have abortions. In total, almost one in five adult women has had an abortion once in her life. According to Peru's Ministry of Health, in 2018 2,480 teenage girls were hospitalised after undergoing an abortion.
In Peru, almost all abortions have been illegal since 1924, except in cases of a threat to the life or health of the woman. Not only that, these abortions are punishable by law. Between 2000 and 2019, 571 women and teenage girls were prosecuted for terminating their pregnancy, out of 961 reported cases. According to the Catholic Organization for the Right to Decide, there are 1,000 abortions a day in Peru.
Despite these figures, very few political parties had sexual and reproductive rights on their agendas for the elections that took place on April 11, 2021. Only two out of 18 parties included proposals on access to birth control and the emergency kit, which is a set of free medications intended to safeguard the health and well-being of sexual violence victims.
It seems that this situation is unlikely to change for the second round of the presidential elections, scheduled for Sunday, June 6. What's most concerning is that the two candidates who have progressed to the second round, Pedro Castillo and Keiko Fujimori, are more likely to be pro-life and neither has a clear agenda on gender-focused sexual and reproductive rights.
From forced sterilizations to forced pregnancies, it seems that Peruvian women still have no control over their own bodies and fertility.