IACHR Urges Bolivian State to Comply with Obligation to Protect Girls and Adolescents from Sexual Violence and Guarantee Their Sexual and Reproductive Rights

November 2, 2021

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Washington, DC—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged the State of Bolivia to comply with the national and international regulatory framework by protecting girls and adolescents from sexual violence and forced pregnancy, and guaranteeing the exercise of their sexual and reproductive rights, taking into account the fact that their gender and age makes them particularly vulnerable.

Not only is sexual violence against girls and adolescents a particular type of gender-based aggression, it is also a form of discrimination that prevents the enjoyment of other human rights, and thus can have a devastating effect on victims' life projects. The IACHR noted that pregnancies among girls and adolescent victims of sexual abuse jeopardize their lives and physical and mental health, and affect their overall autonomy.

In the report on Violence and Discrimination against Women, Girls and Adolescents, the IACHR warned that child and adolescent pregnancy is a serious problem in the Americas, where there are nearly 10 million such pregnancies per year. In response, it is States' duty to watch over the best interests of girls and adolescents and provide special protection for their human rights, given the particular vulnerability discussed above. Specifically, victims of sexual violence should obtain swift, timely access to health services and comprehensive scientific information to enable them and their families to make decisions and consent to any necessary procedures, without this representing a risk to their lives or affecting other rights. The State must also guarantee confidentiality and privacy and shield victims from any nonscientific opinions or information from public officials and/or third parties that might interfere in their decisions.

According to the United Nations Population Fund, Bolivia has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the Americas: 88 per 1000 girls and women between the ages of 15 and 19, while the regional average is 70. Meanwhile, according to figures from the Ministry of Health, 22,221 teenage pregnancies were recorded between January and July 2021, a figure that was projected to increase in the second half of the year.

On this point, the IACHR noted that the State of Bolivia has a regulatory framework in place to protect girls and adolescents who are victims of sexual violence. This should be implemented in strict accordance with their best interests, on the understanding that the denial of safe, timely, voluntary termination of pregnancy constitutes a violation of their fundamental rights in certain circumstances, especially the rights to life, personal integrity, health, and women's right to live a life free of violence and discrimination, broadly speaking.

This is especially relevant in the context of Bolivia, where, according to the information received by the IACHR, one in three girls suffers some form of sexual violence before the age of 18 and, according to data from the Public Prosecutor's Office specializing in gender and crimes against children, 561 cases of rape of children and adolescents were reported up between January and April 2021.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Committee Against Torture have noted that gender-based violence violates the right to health and sexual and reproductive rights and that the forced continuation of pregnancy can constitute a form of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, given the increased risk of maternal mortality to which women, girls and adolescents are exposed in this context.

Given the current rise in gender-based violence against girls and adolescents, the IACHR deems it essential that States develop policies and programs that facilitate access to age-appropriate, quality sex education and accessible sexual and reproductive health services, while guaranteeing the participation of girls and adolescents in these programs and their access to information. Specifically, it urged the State of Bolivia to do its utmost to eradicate violence against women, girls, and adolescents, strengthening agencies and organizations that provide timely, appropriate care, while guaranteeing swift, appropriate access to health and information services, in compliance with its domestic legislation and international treaties.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 287/21

7:30 AM