Anastasia Moloney, Reuters, October 2, 2015
In Guatemala, most pregnancies among girls under 14 are the result of rape at the hands of fathers or other relatives, but often it is the girl who is forced to leave the family home, and few perpetrators are punished, said a leading rights campaigner.
Nearly a quarter of all births in Guatemala are among teenage mothers–one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in Latin America.
“In the majority of cases of sexual violence against girls, some as young as 10, most are committed by family members, mainly by the girl’s father or stepfather,” said Mirna Montenegro, the head of Guatemala’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Observatory (OSAR).
In 2012, nearly 90 percent of all pregnancies among Guatemalan girls under 14 involved relatives, including cousins and uncles, of which 30 percent were the result of rape by fathers, according to Guatemala’s human rights ombudsman.
Despite new laws passed in Guatemala to better protect against sexual violence, few who commit rape against girls are punished.
“Getting justice for girls who report crimes of sexual violence is still a big challenge for us. Often it’s the pregnant girl who is removed from her home and placed in a refuge and not the perpetrator of the crime,” Montenegro told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.
According to a 2009 law, sex with a child under 14 is defined as rape, but of the 2,000 reported cases of under-14s getting pregnant in 2012, only eight resulted in convictions, Montenegro said.
High levels of sexual violence against women and girls stem from the low status of women, especially indigenous Mayan women, in Guatemala’s patriarchal and macho society.
“Machismo is about men believing a woman is their property and possession. We’ve heard fathers say ‘She’s my daughter and my property so I will do what I want with her,” said Montenegro,
She said gender violence is also a legacy of Guatemala’s 1960-1996 civil war when rape was used as a weapon of war.
Guatemala’s high prevalence of child marriage, where girls can marry at 14 with their parent’s consent, also fuels adolescent pregnancy, Montenegro said.
Guatemala’s congress is considering a bill that would raise the minimum legal age for marriage to 16 for girls and 18 for boys, with the issue a debating point ahead of the country’s presidential election run-off on Oct. 25.