Adolescents in the Dominican Republic are denied their sexual and reproductive rights, including access to Safe Abortion, Human Rights Watch said in a report published today. The authorities should implement a new plan for comprehensive sexuality education and decriminalize abortion to curb unwanted teenage pregnancy and reduce unsafe abortion.
The report of 55 pages, “‘I Felt Like the World Was Falling Down on Me’: Adolescent Girls’ Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in the Dominican Republic” (“‘I Felt that the world was falling apart,”: Health and sexual and reproductive rights of the adolescents in the Dominican Republic”), documents how the authorities have postponed the launch of a program of education in sexuality, long-awaited, leaving hundreds of thousands of girls and children and teenagers without scientific information accurately on their health. The country has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). The total prohibition of abortion in the country means that a teenage girl facing an unwanted pregnancy must continue that pregnancy against her will or obtain a clandestine abortion, often putting her health and even her life at serious risk.
Girls must be prepared with information and health services to prevent unwanted pregnancies and make informed decisions about their bodies and relationships, ” said Margaret Wurth, senior researcher on women’s rights at Human Rights Watch. “By denying them their sexual and reproductive rights, Dominican authorities are not giving young girls and women every opportunity to continue their education and lead a healthy, successful and enriching life.
The report is based on interviews with 30 girls and women who became pregnant before the age of 18, and dozens of others, including students, LGBT youth, health care providers and social services, and field experts.
The high rate of teenage pregnancies in the Dominican Republic is a consequence of the country’s inadequate education in sexuality and the unmet need for contraception. Public health data show that 20.5 percent of girls and young women aged 15-19 in the Dominican Republic become pregnant in adolescence. Most of these pregnancies are not planned or desired. The laws that criminalize abortion created a widespread fear and push abortion underground, forcing women and girls to resort to measures unsafe to put an end to unwanted pregnancies.
Young girls and women described having felt extreme distress upon learning of an unplanned pregnancy. ” I felt like the world was falling on me, ” said a young woman. “I was going crazy, thinking I couldn’t have a child,” he added. ” I was terrified, ” said another.
The ban on abortion in the country has different impacts that harm adolescent girls, Human Rights Watch found. Sexual activity is often highly stigmatized among adolescents. A girl facing an unwanted pregnancy may find it more difficult than an adult woman to seek help, which could lead her to resort to less safe abortion methods. Several young girls and women said they tried to secretly terminate a pregnancy before the age of 18. International human rights experts have concluded that denying access to abortion to girls and women is a form of discrimination and endangers a number of human rights.
United Nations experts have urged governments to provide students with comprehensive sex education from an early age. Under international human rights law, as well as national legislation in the Dominican Republic, minors have the right to access information on sexual and reproductive health.
Many adolescents in the Dominican Republic are also struggling to obtain confidential and non-stigmatizing health services, and some do not have access to important sexual and reproductive health services, such as contraception. “They do not receive quality services or confidential treatment,” one expert said. A survey by the Ministry of Health of 2013, the most recent data available, found that 27 per cent of girls and young women 15 to 19 years, and 21 per cent of 20 to 24 years have contraceptive needs that are not covered.
Early pregnancy carries serious health risks for young mothers and their babies. Some of the young mothers interviewed experienced complications during pregnancy or childbirth, some of which resulted in the death of the babies.
Pregnant students and young mothers often face difficulties in continuing their education. For others it is simply impossible. Some said that they faced discriminatory attitudes on the part of teachers or school administrators, leaving school during pregnancy or after childbirth. Some never returned.