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Guatemala Praised for Policies on Adolescent Girls

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 10 2015 (IPS) - The government of Guatemala has been praised for a programme helping young women avoid unwanted pregnancies and finish their education.

On the opening day of the Commission on the Status of Women at U.N. headquarters in New York on Monday, Guatemala was held up as an example of how governments can develop frameworks to protect and promote the rights of young women.

Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, praised Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti for her government’s ‘PLANEA’ initiative, providing sexual education to adolescents.

“Young people can break away from the cycle of poverty and create a sustainable future, but first we have to invest in their health, sexual and reproductive health, education, and empower them going forward,” Osotimehin said.

“By helping girls stay in school, we prevent pregnancy, and give them greater autonomy and agency. This can be shared as good practice in Latin America and around the world.”

The ‘Abriendo Opportunidades’ (‘Opening Opportunities’) programme has reached over 6,000 girls. Around 97 percent of Abriendo girl leaders remained childless during the programme, compared with a national average of 78 percent. All participants completed sixth grade of schooling, compared with a national average of 82 percent.

UNFPA said child marriage and adolescent pregnancy are common among girls, especially indigenous Guatemalan girls, in poverty. Around 74 percent of indigenous girls live in poverty.

Baldetti, speaking through a translator, said rape – especially family rape – and adolescent pregnancy were far too common in Guatemala, and outlined changes to policies on young women since her government came to power in 2012.

Baldetti said she was the country’s first female vice president and had instituted a Specific Cabinet for Women – the only one of its type in Latin America, she claimed.

“Complications in pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death. This is not just a population issue, it is a development issue rooted in inequality, power imbalances, forced marriages, lack of education, and a failure of systems and institutions to protect them,” she said.

Baldetti explained how Guatemala now treats pregnancies of girls under the age of 14 as “rape crimes,” with a view to prosecuting the man responsible. Specific clinics to deal with such cases have been installed in over 40 locations nationwide.

“We collect the DNA of the person who raped them and collect evidence… in 48 hours, we know who owns that DNA and who aggressed this child,” she said.

Other programmes help young women with children of their own to access food and social assistance, as well as help the young woman back to school.

Guatemala and UNFPA also signed an agreement on ‘South-South Cooperation’ during the presentation, recognising Guatemala’s work and how it might be applied to other countries, especially in Latin America.

“Investing in young people, helping them realise their human rights and capabilities, is key to human development and sustainability. Guatemala is standing up to be counted, and providing this unique example to follow,” Osotimehin said.

“This is a part of the world we need to make progress rapidly. Adolescent girls must be the centre of that development.”

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julie theriot