By Tim Rogers/ Nicaragua Dispatch
HAVANA TIMES — The Sandinista government’s treatment of childhood pregnancies as a “miracle” from God rather than a mortal issue related to public health, sexual violence and reproductive rights has contributed to a dramatic increase in kids giving birth to more kids, according to human-rights activists.
Official statistics released yesterday by the Ministry of Heath’s Dr. Wilmer Beteta reveals a 48% increase in the birth rate of minors ages 10-14 since the year 2000. One in four childbirths in Nicaragua is by a teenage mom age 15-19, according to government numbers.
A decade ago, Nicaragua registered 1,066 births by girls under 15. In 2009, the last year official data was released, the number had jumped to 1,577. Rights workers suspect the number of young teenage pregnancies is now even higher, although the government has not made any more recent data available.
Oscar Viscarra, resident representative of the UN Population and Development Fund, told El Nuevo Diario that the numbers that do exist are worrisome enough. Rights activists stress that every pregnant minor is a rape victim, so an increase in childhood pregnancies indicates an increase in sexual violence towards children.
But in Nicaragua, where therapeutic abortion has been outlawed since 2006, even the most extreme cases of 10-year-old girls who become impregnated after being raped by a family member are denied the possibility of terminating their unwanted or life-threatening pregnancy.
In one particularly disturbing case, the Sandinista media last year celebrated the “miracle” of childbirth after a 12-year-old indigenous girl survived a risky pregnancy and delivered a small baby boy one week before the presidential election. The jubilant Sandinista media failed to mention that the girl had been raped by her stepfather and would now be forced to surrender her own childhood to raise another kid slightly younger than herself in the same impoverished household as her lecherous abuser.
In general, very few cases of sexual violence are prosecuted in Nicaragua. An Amnesty International report released last May says rape and sexual abuse in Nicaragua are “widespread.” The organization criticized the Nicaraguan government for failing to bring many abusers to justice and further entrenching impunity for gender-based violence.
In addition to impunity, the government’s health providers are not generally treating rape victims with the care they need and deserve, says Martha Maria Blandon, director of Ipas Central America, an international public-health advocacy group that works on issues of sexual and reproductive rights.
Blandon laments that Nicaraguan health providers have no appropriate protocol for treating pregnant girls, who are dealt with like any other pregnant mother rather than as a minor who has been raped. Blandon says it’s inappropriate to talk to a 12-year-old pregnant girl about prenatal care as if her pregnancy were a normal occurrence.
Still, Blandon says, the fact that a Nicaraguan official has publically acknowledged the rising number pregnant minors represents a step forward for a government that likes to cloak itself in cheerful propaganda.
“We hope this means authorities are also accepting the reality that we have been pointing out for a long time—that this is a growing problem and the government has not given it the seriousness it deserves,” Blandon told The Nicaragua Dispatch. “Accepting the statistics is a starting point, but what is the government going to do to diminish the problem? There needs to be an integral response that deals with the issues of sexual violence, sexual education, emergency contraception and access to public health services.”
Dr. Beteta says the government is in the process of developing an Integral National Plan for Sexual and Reproductive Health. Non-governmental organizations such as Ipas say they hope the government will consult with them and other community organizations that have been working on these issues for years and have the experience to help the state improve the situation here.