Landmark Ruling Will Help Protect Schoolgirls from Sexual Violence Throughout Latin America
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights established legally binding standards to prevent sexual violence and harassment in schools throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. The court held Ecuador responsible for violating the right to life, personal integrity, private life and dignity, education, and the right to live free from gender violence and discrimination in detriment of Paola Guzmán Albarracín, a school girl who has sexually abused by her school’s vice principal, who coerced her into a predatory relationship, ultimately leading to her suicide. The Court clarified for the first time that the right to education must include sexual and reproductive education.
Paola Guzmán Albarracín, a student in Ecuador, had been repeatedly sexually abused by her public school’s vice principal. In 2002, after she became pregnant and was pressured by her abuser to have an abortion, Paola committed suicide and died. She was 16. Following her daughter’s death, Paola’s mother brought charges against the vice principal and called for a disciplinary investigation.
After Paola’s family members were denied justice through traditional legal channels in Ecuador, in 2006, the Center for Reproductive Rights and its local partner, CEPAM-Guayaquil, brought the case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
In 2015, the Commission held the Ecuadorian State responsible for violating Paola’s rights to life, personal integrity, autonomy, private life and dignity; her right to enjoy special protection from the State as a child; her right to equality and non-discrimination; her rights to education and health; and her right to live free from gender violence. The Commission then advanced Paola’s case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the highest judicial body for human rights in the Americas, where the Center presented oral arguments on January 28, 2020.
On August 14, 2020, 18 years after Paola’s death, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in a wide-reaching ruling, established standards to protect girls from sexual violence and harassment in schools throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. It also held Ecuador responsible for failing to protect Paola from the sexual violence she suffered in her school and ordered reparations for her family.
The decision substantially echoed the Commission’s conclusions, finding Ecuador liable for a breach of Paola’s rights to life, personal integrity, private life and dignity; her right to enjoy special protection from the State as a child; her right to equality and non-discrimination; her right to education; and her right to live free from gender violence. More broadly, the judgment obliged Ecuador to adopt structural measures to address sexual violence in the school environment, including a policy to provide access to sex education.
In December 2020, Ecuador president Lenín Moreno issued a public apology, recognizing that Paola was a victim of sexual violence and that her death was directly related to the sexual assault she endured. At the event, Paola’s high school diploma was posthumously presented to her mother and sister and President Moreno declared a National Day for the Fight Against Sexual Violence in Schools.
Significantly, the human rights standards established in the judgment to protect girls from sexual violence and harassment in schools apply throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. In addition, these standards became part of the Inter-American System of Human Rights, which is recognized by even more countries in the region.
Plaintiff(s): Petita Albarracín and Denise Guzmán on behalf of her daughter and sister, respectively, Paola Guzmán Albarracin
Center Attorney(s): Lilian Sepúlveda, Luisa Cabal, Catalina Martínez Coral, Alejandra Cardenas, Carmen Cecilia Martínez
Partner(s): Centro Ecuatoriano para la Promoción y Acción de la Mujer (CEPAM-Guayaquil)
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