Calls on Governments to Take Immediate Steps to Protect Women’s Health and Lives
New York | Read MoreSouth Asian governments must work much harder to serve the reproductive health needs and promote the autonomy of the women in their region, according to a new report released today by the Center for Reproductive Rights. As a result of bad laws or failure to implement good laws, South Asian women have some of the world’s highest rates of unplanned pregnancies, maternal deaths, unsafe abortions, child marriages, and sexual trafficking and violence, as well as soaring rates of HIV/AIDS infection. The report urges specific actions that governments in the region should take to protect women’s health and human rights.Women of the World: Laws and Policies Affecting Their Reproductive Lives – South Asia, the latest volume in the Center’s acclaimed Women of the World series, examines extensively the laws and policies that discriminate against women in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Although the governments have agreed to uphold reproductive rights in international agreements, formal laws make women in this region among the worst off in the world.Common Reproductive Health Problems in South AsiaMATERNAL DEATHS. More South Asian women of reproductive age die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth than from any other cause. India has the highest absolute number of maternal deaths in the world. In Nepal, one woman dies every two hours from complications of pregnancy.ABORTION. In South Asia, three women die every hour from unsafe, often illegal abortions – some 29,000 every year. Unsafe abortion is the leading cause of maternal mortality in Sri Lanka. In Bangladesh, where most abortions are illegal, 200 women a day are hospitalized for abortion-related complications.CHILD MARRIAGE. In India, Nepal and Bangladesh, over half of all girls are married by the age of 18. In all three countries, child marriage is illegal, but huge numbers of children are married every year.CONTRACEPTION. Less than half of all married women use a modern form of contraception, and less then 10 percent of married adolescents in most South Asian countries use any method of contraception.HIV/AIDS. The subordinate position of women in the region makes them especially vulnerable to HIV infection. In India, at the end of 2001, 1.5 million women were living with HIV. An increasing number of women are being infected with HIV by their husbands, and HIV-positive women are at increased risk of being abused, abandoned or murdered.SEX TRAFFICKING. Sex trafficking in South Asia is a billion – dollar industry and one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises in the world. India is one of the biggest “slave bazaars” for minor girls in the world.Among the RECOMMENDATIONS to correct these problems: * Initiate legislation and policy measures to end discriminatory customs and practices that prevent women from surviving pregnancy and childbirth.
* Abolish criminal abortion laws and create universal access to safe and affordable abortion services.
* Adopt a uniform minimum age at marriage for both women and men and enforce existing laws that prohibit child marriage.
* Expand current family planning programs to meet the needs of diverse populations, including unmarried women and adolescents, refugees, commercial sex workers and victims of violence.
* Reform discriminatory laws and outlaw practices that contribute to women’s susceptibility to HIV infection.
* Strictly enforce laws that criminalize the trafficking of women and children. Speaking at the book launch at the Asia Society on May 11, Dr. Nafis Sadik, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General and his Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Asia, said, “Women’s reproductive health and rights are human rights. We need to affirm these rights at every opportunity. The information this report contains will aid this ongoing process in South Asia. Its recommendations to governments are right on target.” “This report is a tool to help activists and policymakers take action,” said Katherine Hall-Martinez, director of the International Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Conditions for South Asian women will not be improved adequately by establishing more or even better health care services. Until the law promotes women’s reproductive autonomy, programs won’t make the difference. Governments in South Asia also need to transform how their laws and policies deal with entrenched discrimination against women.” Based on three years of research, the report is a unique collaboration between the Center for Reproductive Rights and nongovernmental organizations in three of the countries documented: the Lawyers Collective in India, Nepal’s Legal Aid and Consultancy Center, and the Institute for Human Rights in Sri Lanka. Melissa Upreti, the Center’s legal advisor for Asia, coordinated the report. Other volumes in the Women of the World series document reproductive health law and policy in Anglophone Africa, East Central Europe, Francophone Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean. A final volume, on Southeast Asia, is scheduled for release in 2005. To order Women of the World – South Asia or other volumes in the series, contact Talar Attarian at [email protected]. To view the report online, go to //www.reproductiverights.org/pub_bo_wowsa.html.