Q REPORTS (IPS) Pregnancies among girls and adolescents continue unstoppable in Central America, where the laws to prevent them, when they exist, are a dead letter, and the States allow themselves to be influenced by conservative sectors that oppose sex education in schools.
The most recent episode of this reality was carried out by the president of Honduras, Xiomara Castro, when she vetoed, on July 29, the Comprehensive Law for the Prevention of Adolescent Pregnancy, approved by the unicameral National Congress on March 8 and criticized by conservative groups and the country’s political right.
“We don’t know the rationale for the veto, but one might think that this law is still stopped due to pressure from those anti-rights groups,” Erika García, a lawyer from the Women’s Rights Center, told IPS from Tegucigalpa.
The influence of pressure groups
Conservative sectors united in “For our children”, a Honduran version of the regional movement “Do not mess with my children”, have opposed the law because for them it sought to establish “gender ideology”, as international conservative populism calls to the dissemination of the rights of women and the LGBTI community.
The United Nations expressed its concern in June about the “disinformation campaigns” surrounding this Honduran law.
The last of the marches in favor of “family and childhood” was held in Tegucigalpa, the country’s capital, on July 22.
“When I got pregnant I didn’t even know what a condom was, I’m not ashamed to say it”: Zuleyma Beltrán.
These groups “appeal to people’s ignorance, fear, religion, with arguments that are far from reality, they say, for example, that boys are going to wear skirts and girls pants,” added García.
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), one in four births is to a girl under 19 years of age in Honduras, making the country the second in Latin America with the highest rate of adolescent pregnancies.
The Honduran Penal Code establishes that having sexual relations with minors under 14 years of age is sexual violence and, therefore, a crime, regardless of whether the girl consented.
In 2022 there were 1,039 births to girls in that age range.
“It’s quite serious, and it gets worse because there are no public policies to prevent pregnancies among girls or adolescents,” García said.
In Central American countries, with some 50 million inhabitants, ultra-conservative views prevail when it comes to sexual and reproductive education.
El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua maintain an absolute ban on abortion, to which the Dominican Republic joins them, in the Caribbean. In the rest of Central America, the interruption of pregnancy is only allowed in some cases.
The Honduran president vetoed the law with the legislative “return to Congress” formula, so that it can be analyzed again and eventually ratified if two thirds of the 128 deputies are obtained.
“I didn’t know what a condom was”
However, having laws of this nature does not ensure that the phenomenon will alleviate, as it happens that legal mandates are not always complied with.
El Salvador has had the National Intersectoral Strategy for the Prevention of Pregnancy in Girls and Adolescents since 2017, and although the figures have decreased in recent years, they are still high.
A report by UNFPA pointed out that in this country the pregnancy rate in girls and adolescents has dropped by more than 50% between 2015 and 2022.
However, “it is worrisome to see El Salvador as one of the 50 countries in the world with the highest fertility rates in girls between the ages of 10 and 14,” he said in his latest report, published this July.
Among girls between the ages of 10 and 14, the document noted, the pregnancy rate has dropped by 59.6%, going from 4.7 prenatal registrations per 1,000 girls in 2015 to 1.9 in 2022.
The map on pregnancies in girls and adolescents in El Salvador added that the country “needs to speed up the pace even more, adopting policies and strategies adjusted to the differentiated realities of girls aged 10-14 and adolescents aged 15-19”.
Those actions have to be based “on evidence,” the report cited.
This reference seems to be an allusion to the prevalence of conservative attitudes of groups that, as in Honduras, reject sexual and reproductive education in schools.
This lack of elementary knowledge about sexuality, in the midst of a context of structural poverty, led Zuleyma Beltrán to become pregnant when she was a 15-year-old teenager.
“When I got pregnant I didn’t even know what a condom was, I’m not ashamed to say it,” Beltrán, now 41, told IPS.
And she added: “I suffered a lot for not having knowledge of many things, for living in ignorance.”
Two years later, Beltrán became pregnant again and had an obstetric emergency. She lost the fetus and that led her to jail in August 1999, accused of abortion, as happens with hundreds of women in El Salvador.
This country not only prohibits the termination of pregnancy in all its forms, even in cases of rape, but also imposes sentences of up to 30 years in prison for women who have suffered induced or spontaneous abortions and that the justice system almost criminalizes always the same
“The State should be ashamed of forcing these girls to give birth and it doesn’t give them options,” said Anabel Recinos, from the Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion.
“The State does not provide girls with sexual education or sexual and reproductive health, and when the consequences of pregnancy or obstetric emergencies come, it is too cruel to them, it only offers them jail,” she added.
Recinos said that, due to pressure from conservative groups, the State has backed down on the strategy of providing sexual and reproductive information in schools.
“Now they are more rigorous in not allowing organizations that work in that area to go and give talks on comprehensive sexuality education in schools,” she said.
No baby formula
In Guatemala, the initiatives of civil organizations that since 2017 have proposed, among other things, that at least the State should offer reparation to pregnant girls and adolescents, to alleviate their harsh burden, have not advanced either.
These proposals included the establishment of a scholarship plan, a mechanism to ensure the care of the baby so that the mother goes to school and the supply of formula to feed it.
“But unfortunately we were not able to take the next step, to get these socks up and running,” Paula Barrios, general coordinator of Mujeres Transformando el Mundo, said in a telephone conversation with IPS from the capital, Guatemala City.
Barrios said that the majority of the users of the services offered by that organization, such as legal and psychological support, “are girls and adolescents who, due to sexual violence, begin a forced maternity.”
She assured that in the last five years, around 500,000 girls under 14 years of age have become pregnant, and the number increases by including those up to 19 years of age.
“Today we have half a million girls who do not know what they are eating, nor the boys and girls who are the products of rape,” Barrios stressed, adding that, as in El Salvador and Honduras, in Guatemala, it is considered a sexual crime to have sex with a minor under 14 years of age.
She added: “Society normalizes that women are born to be mothers, and so it doesn’t matter if a girl gets pregnant at 10 or 12 years old, it is thought that she has only gone ahead.”
Patriarchy and capitalism
The experts from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador consulted by IPS maintained that the root of the phenomenon is multi-causal, and visible aspects of patriarchy stand out, such as gender stereotypes and sexual violence, among others.
“The patriarchy has an interest in stopping women from going out into the public sphere,” said the Guatemalan Barrios.
She assured that the life of a 10-year-old girl was cut short when she got pregnant. She will no longer go to school and will stay in the domestic sphere, “to raise children and be at home.”
For her part, the Honduran Garcia pointed out that there is also a “system of oppression” that is intertwined with patriarchy and colonialism, which is the influence of a hegemonic country or region.
“We have girls giving birth to cheap labor to feed the (capitalist) system, and there is a greater feminization of poverty, girls giving birth to girls whose life projects are ruined,” said the lawyer.
Meanwhile, so as not to repeat the hard experience, the Salvadoran Beltrán pointed out that she does speak and teach her 9-year-old daughter about sexuality.
“In order not to repeat my story, I talk to her about condoms, how a woman has to take care of herself and how one can get pregnant,” she said.
“I don’t want him to go through what I had to go through,” she said.