12.27.10 – This fall, three UN treaty monitoring bodies urged the governments of Ecuador, Uganda and Nicaragua to take steps to promote, protect and fulfill reproductiv rights. The treaty bodies made these powerful recommendations largely in response to the comprehensive advocacy strategy developed by the Center and its partners.
Ecuador: Protect girls from sexual violence in schools
A shocking number of girls in Ecuador face sexual harassment and abuse in schools, often at the hands of teachers or school administrators. The number of girls who report experiencing sexual violence in school ranges from 22 to 63 percent, according to NGO estimates. The Center submitted a shadow letter to the Committee against Torture highlighting the severity of this problem and arguing that these abuses constitute forms of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
The Committee expressed great concern about sexual violence in schools and noted that it is closely following the case of Paola Guzmán v. Ecuador, which the Center and a local partner filed before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The case involves a girl from Guayaquil who was repeatedly sexually abused by the Vice Principal of her school and committed suicide after learning she was pregnant and was unable to obtain a legal abortion.
The Committee urged the Ecuadorian government to take immediate steps to address high rates of sexual violence in schools as well as the lack of access to justice for survivors, in line with the Center’s recommendations in its shadow letter. The Committee also called on Ecuador to strengthen efforts to provide survivors with redress, including fair and adequate compensation and services to help them recover physically and psychologically. The Committee’s recommendation embraces one of the shadow letter’s fundamental claims: that access to reproductive healthcare is an essential part of complying with the state’s obligation under the Convention against Torture to guarantee survivors of torture the means to fully recover from their ordeal.
Uganda: Address the link between unsafe abortion and maternal deaths
In September, the Center and the Uganda Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA-Uganda) submitted a shadow letter to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) regarding sexual and reproductive rights in Uganda. The Committee’s concluding observations acknowledged one of the shadow letter’s paramount concerns: that clandestine abortions are a major cause of prevailing high maternal mortality rates in the country. The Committee called on Uganda to expand access to contraception, provide sex education and eliminate early marriages to reduce maternal deaths.
Observing that gender-based violence is widespread in Uganda and legitimized by a culture of impunity, the Committee urged Uganda to criminalize, investigate and prosecute all forms of sexual violence. It called attention to pervasive sexual violence in schools and, echoing our shadow letter, recognized that sexual violence corresponds to high dropout rates among female students. The Committee requested that Uganda provide a report in two years documenting efforts to make schools safe and punish offenders.
The Committee also urged Uganda to expeditiously enact the pending Marriage &, Divorce Bill, which provides for equality in marriage and women’s right to negotiate sexual relations. Notably, the Committee called for Uganda to protect the confidentiality of individuals’ HIV status in medical settings, a measure that the shadow letter emphasized as crucial to improving women’s reproductive health and protecting women from violence and discrimination based on their HIV status.
Nicaragua: Revoke blanket abortion ban
In a September shadow letter to the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Center highlighted the devastating impact that Nicaragua’s blanket abortion ban is having on children and adolescents. Nicaragua has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Latin America and the Caribbean, and adolescent girls between 15 and 19 account for a quarter of all births. Unsurprisingly, the abortion ban hasn’t deterred women and adolescents from terminating their pregnancies, only forced them to turn to dangerous methods that put their lives and health at risk. As a result, unsafe abortion is currently the leading cause of maternal deaths in the country. Adolescent girls are also adversely affected by the blanket abortion ban because they are more likely to develop dangerous complications during pregnancy and need life-saving therapeutic abortions. Nicaragua’s law, however, doesn’t make exceptions even in those instances.
The Committee issued a powerful response in its concluding observations, appealing to Nicaragua to revoke the abortion ban and ensure that girls are not subject to criminal sanctions for seeking or obtaining an abortion under any circumstances.
The Committee called for measures to expand the availability of contraception and to ensure that children, adolescents and pregnant women have universal access to HIV-related prevention, treatment and support. The Committee also urged Nicaragua to ensure that adolescents can readily access safe, legal and confidential sexual and reproductive health services, including for information, counseling and abortion.
The Center and its partners welcome all of these concluding observations and strongly urge the governments of Ecuador, Uganda and Nicaragua to fully implement the recommendations and safeguard the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women.