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INT’L WOMEN’S DAY: Mexican Rape Victims Denied Right to Abortion

Diego Cevallos

MEXICO CITY, Mar 7 2006 (IPS) - A woman or girl is raped every four minutes on average in Mexico. But if they get pregnant, there is no guarantee that their right to an abortion as rape victims will be recognised, due to administrative hurdles and outright obstruction by authorities, says a new report released Tuesday.

A woman or girl is raped every four minutes on average in Mexico. But if they get pregnant, there is no guarantee that their right to an abortion as rape victims will be recognised, due to administrative hurdles and outright obstruction by authorities, says a new report released Tuesday.

Many end up seeking clandestine abortions, often in conditions that put their lives at risk. Although there are no figures on how many women in Mexico undergo abortions in clandestine clinics, a study by the National Autonomous University of Mexico reported in 2005 that up to one million abortions a year are practiced in this country, equivalent to 30 percent of the total annual number of pregnancies.

“Women who become pregnant as a result of rape find themselves trapped between the apathy and unwillingness of the authorities, who see the right to abortion as merely theoretical,” Marianne Mollmann, the author of the Human Rights Watch report “The Second Assault: Obstructing Access to Legal Abortion after Rape in Mexico”, told IPS.

Abortion is illegal in Mexico, as in the rest of Latin America, with the exception of Cuba. But the penalty – between one and six years in prison – is waived when the expectant mother’s life is in danger or the pregnancy is a result of rape.

In the study, which includes testimonies from several rape victims, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) demands that the Mexican state guarantee the right to abortion for victims of rape, and that it be expanded to victims of incest or to underage girls who are the victims of statutory rape.


“Then my father took me to a hostel… And there [he] said to me that I should take all my clothes off… and [he] took all his clothes off… And [he] started to caress my legs and all of my body. And he penetrated me, and it hurt a lot when he penetrated me,” a pregnant 16-year-old girl told authorities in the state of Guanajuato.

“After that time, it was every week that my father took me to different hotels… And we had sex… And with regard to my pregnancy, I want to declare that I am certain that the child that I am expecting is my father’s because I never had [sex] with anyone else…

“And I want to declare that I don’t want to have the child that I am expecting, because I will not be able to love it. Because it is my father’s… and that’s why I want you to help me to have an abortion,” she added, in the testimony that was published in the HRW report.

Nevertheless, the courts forced her to carry her pregnancy to term, based on the argument that she was a victim of incest rather than rape.

In the report, which was presented to the government of President Vicente Fox, HRW calls for the criminalisation of all forms of domestic violence against women and girls, including sexual abuse by fathers.

Local and international non-governmental organisations, as well as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), have already urged the Mexican government to take that step, alarmed by the large number of rapes, illegal abortions and cases of domestic violence in this country of 104 million.

After a two-year legal process, the IACHR is due to hand down a ruling Wednesday ordering the Mexican state to make reparations to Paulina Rodríguez, who in 1999 was raped and became pregnant at the age of 13.

Rodríguez was not allowed to have an abortion, and is now raising her son with her mother’s help.

The case was brought before the IACHR, which will instruct the Mexican government to make a public statement that rape victims have the right to abortion, and that obstruction of this right is punishable by law.

“The state is acting in the case of Paulina, which is good. But there are hundreds of Paulinas every year, and they have no rights,” said Mollmann.

The HRW study was carried out in Mexico because rape victims are legally authorised to terminate their pregnancies, and also “because this country is somewhat of a leader in the region, and has political clout. We know this problem exists in the region, and we hope this report will generate some debate,” said the activist.

“For many rape survivorsàactual access to safe abortion procedures is made virtually impossible by a maze of administrative hurdles as well as – most pointedly – by official negligence and obstruction,” says the report.

The report reveals that in many jurisdictions there are no procedures to authorise and provide access to a legal abortion after rape, while in others the procedures are long and complicated, and judicial or public health officials frequently discourage or openly misinform women seeking abortions.

In addition, the process for providing legal abortion services in public hospitals is often made virtually “clandestine” by maintaining strict secrecy, failing to keep records, and bringing doctors in to perform abortions in places where they do not usually work, all of which reinforce the stigma surrounding this practice.

“At the core of this issue is a generalised failure of the Mexican justice system to provide a solution for rampant domestic and sexual violence, including incest and marital rape,” the report stresses.

Rocío Corral, director of the non-governmental Margarita Magón Women’s Support Centre in Mexico City, told IPS that the HRW report addresses “a real and terrible problem that the authorities have done little or nothing to solve.”

“In the case of legal abortion after rape, what happens is that many authorities deny this right because of their religious beliefs or machismo. But hopefully this will change after the report is released, when this information is made fully available and women become aware of it,” said Corral, whose centre provides support to women victims of violence.

According to a survey cited by the HRW report, 74 percent of low-income women in Mexico City did not know abortion is legal in some circumstances.

“These issues have to be talked about openly in Mexico. This information has to be made available so that people are familiar with the rights of women, and demand that they be respected,” José Manuel López, president of the Centre for Guidance and Prevention of Sexual Assault in the central Mexican city of Guadalajara, told IPS.

In an interview with HRW quoted in the report, López shared his own experiences of witnessing the mistreatment of rape victims by police and judicial authorities.

“[A]n old, poor woman came in to report a rape, and the public prosecutor [taking her statement] gets up. He says: ‘Old woman, how do you expect me to believe that you were raped? Hey, so-and-so [signalling a male colleague], look at her: would you feel like raping her?’ And the woman got so upset, she left [and didn’t report the crime],” López recounted.

Mollman remarked that in cultural terms, authorities in Mexico tend to presume the innocence of the rapist and the guilt of the rape victim – just one more example of the rampant violence against women.

Although abortion is authorised in cases of rape in all 31 states and the federal district, other laws related to violence against women are less clear-cut.

In seven states, domestic violence is not specifically penalised, while in 17 others, it is only penalised in cases of “repeated” violence. In 13 states, sexual intercourse with a minor (“estupro” or statutory rape) is only a crime if the minor was “chaste” or “honest” prior to the act.

In most jurisdictions, incest is defined as “consensual” sex between parents and children or between siblings. “Since incest, by this definition, is a crime against the family, and not against the physical integrity of the child, underage incest victims are penalised at the same level as their parents or older siblings,” the report notes.

HRW “hopes that our report reaches the ears that are needed and that Mexico takes the necessary measures to end violence against women and guarantee them the full right to free and safe abortions,” said the author of the study.

 
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INT’L WOMEN’S DAY: Mexican Rape Victims Denied Right to Abortion

Diego Cevallos

MEXICO CITY, Mar 7 2006 (IPS) - A woman or girl is raped every four minutes on average in Mexico. But if they get pregnant, there is no guarantee that their right to an abortion as rape victims will be recognised, due to administrative hurdles and outright obstruction by authorities, says a new report released Tuesday.
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