6 March 2014

Africa: Sexual and Reproductive Rights Under Threat Worldwide

Photo: UN Photo/Marco Dormino
Students attend class at a public school in Taliko, a neighbourhood of Bamako.

press release

The health and lives of millions of people across the globe are being threatened by government failures to guarantee their sexual and reproductive rights, Amnesty International said today as it launched a global campaign on this issue.

"It is unbelievable that in the twenty-first century some countries are condoning child marriage and marital rape while others are outlawing abortion, sex outside marriage and same-sex sexual activity - even punishable by death," said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International's Secretary General.

"States need to take positive action - not just by getting rid of oppressive laws but also promoting and protecting sexual and reproductive rights, providing information, education, services and ending impunity for sexual violence."

Amnesty International's new campaign My Body My Rights is about people being empowered to enjoy their sexuality.

A briefing published by Amnesty International highlights the increasing repression of sexual and reproductive rights in many countries around the world that prioritise repressive policies over human rights and basic freedoms.

The briefing points to research findings and statistics that signal a perilous future for the next generation should the world continue to turn a blind eye to the repression of sexual and reproductive rights.

The My Body My Rights campaign encourages young people around the world to know and demand their right to make decisions about their health, body, sexuality and reproduction without state control, fear, coercion or discrimination. It also seeks to remind world leaders of their obligations to take positive action, including through access to health services.

Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty marked the launch by meeting women in rural communities in Nepal - where many girls are forced to marry as children and more than half a million women suffer from a debilitating condition known as uterine prolapse, or fallen womb, as a result of continuous pregnancy and hard labour.

Khumeni lives in one such community in Nepal. She was 15 when her parents decided it was time for her to get married. She has had 10 pregnancies and was banished to the family's cowshed each time she gave birth. She had to carry heavy loads while pregnant, and sometimes only had a week to rest after giving birth. As a result of all this, she suffered a uterine prolapse - or "fallen womb" - but was left without surgical treatment for eight years.

In the course of the two-year campaign, Amnesty International will publish a series of reports on a number of countries where sexual and reproductive rights are denied.

This includes girls forced to marry their rapists in the Maghreb; women and girls denied abortion despite the threat of ill health and even death in El Salvador and other countries; and girls forced into childbirth at a young age in Burkina Faso.

In Morocco, 16-year-old Amina killed herself after being forced to marry the man who raped her. At the time, Moroccan law allowed her attacker to escape prosecution for his crime if he married her.

In Burkina Faso talking openly about sex is taboo. Contraception is not widely available and unplanned pregnancy is widespread. Hassatou was just 13 when she became pregnant. She had no idea that sex would lead to childbirth. After the baby was born, her family threw them out onto the streets.

In El Salvador abortion is illegal, even in cases of rape or when a woman or girl's life or health is at risk, and violence against women and girls remains widespread.

In Ireland, women and girls face up to 14 years in prison for having an abortion other than when their life is at risk.

Amnesty International believes that everyone should be free to make decisions about if, when and with whom they have sex, whether or when they marry or have children and how to best protect themselves from sexual ill-health and HIV.

"With My Body My Rights, we want to help the next generation realise and claim their sexual and reproductive rights. Together we want to send a clear and unequivocal message to governments that this kind of over-reaching control violates human rights and is simply unacceptable," said Salil Shetty.

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