Stolen Childhood: A Call for the Protection of Paraguayan Children from Sexual Abuse

Disclaimer: The following article contains information about child abuse, rape, sexual assault, and other distressing topics.

Every year, travelers from around the world flock to South American countries to visit some of the world’s most popular travel destinations, such as Machu Picchu in Perú, Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, and Patagonia in Chile and Argentina. Paraguay, a landlocked country that lies at the heart of South America, is often skipped over by travelers who do not recognize the rich culture Paraguay has to offer. For people who have experienced the Paraguayan way of life, they quickly learn the importance of drinking tereré, eating asado on Sundays, and speaking Guaraní, the indigenous language.

Although Paraguay is a beautiful country, it has one of the highest child sexual abuse rates in South America.[1] Countries often do not know the actual number of children who fall victim to sexual abuse because the crime often goes unreported. However, in 2020, Amnesty International found that Paraguayan authorities “did not implement sufficient and effective measures to prevent, identify, and address cases” concerning child abuse.[2] Even with the ineffective identification of child abuse cases, in the first nine months of 2020, the Paraguayan Public Prosecutor’s Office registered 1,877 child abuse reports.[3] The Paraguayan Coordination Group for the Rights of Children and Adolescents (CDIA) reported that every two hours an act involving sexual violence against a minor is registered.[4]

Oftentimes, girls become pregnant due to sexual abuse.[5] Overall, Paraguay “has one of the highest rates of child and teen pregnancy in Latin America, a region that, as a whole, has the second-highest rates in the world.”[6] In 2017, Paraguay’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare reported that every day two girls under the age of 15 give birth in Paraguay, but the number is likely higher.[7]

The Paraguayan government needs to address child abuse and the child pregnancies that result from such abuse because child pregnancies negatively impact girls. According to the World Health Organization, child pregnancies present an extreme danger to a girl’s health, including the possibility of complications and death.[8] In March 2018 alone, three girls in Paraguay, aged 10, 14, and 16 died due to pregnancy complications, two of which died during childbirth.[9] The 14-year-old girl died during childbirth after a 37-year-old man raped her.[10]

Unfortunately, the Paraguayan government’s conservative viewpoints leave children vulnerable to sexual violence and unintended pregnancies due to the country’s lack of comprehensive sexual education and access to contraceptives.[11] Evidence shows that sexual education greatly helps prevent and detect sexual abuse.[12] Sexual education equips girls with the knowledge necessary to recognize and alert others to sexual abuse.[13]

The normalization of child motherhood and sexual violence, due in part to the hyper-sexualization of girls, is yet another reason for the high rates of child pregnancy. Paraguayan society has normalized sexual violence by accepting relationships between young girls, even girls under the age of 14, and adult men.[14] ​​Most pregnant Paraguayan girls become pregnant after sexual violence perpetrated by their stepfathers, fathers, grandfathers, neighbors, and uncles.[15] For girls who become pregnant, Paraguayan society views them as capable of being mothers even though they themselves are still children.[16] Ultimately, Paraguay’s “limited availability of and access to victim protection services” results in young girls experiencing high rates of sexual violence and pregnancy due to the underreporting of violence by members of the girls’ communities who know men are perpetrating violence against girls.[17]

Article 34 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) discusses how countries, including Paraguay, agree to “undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.”[18] The Paraguayan government has not taken appropriate measures presented in the CRC to prevent “the inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity.”[19] It is our duty as an international community to ensure the protection of all children from sexual abuse in Paraguay and across the world.


[1] Paola Giménez, Gender-Based Violence in Paraguay: The Other Pandemic, Educ. Int’l (Dec. 1, 2020), https://www.ei-ie.org/en/item/23613:16dayscampaign-gender-based-violence-in-paraguay-the-other-pandemic-by-paola-gimenez-otep-autentica.

[2] Paraguay 2020, Amnesty Int’l, https://www.amnesty.org/en/location/americas/south-america/paraguay/report-paraguay/ (last visited Jan. 6, 2022).

[3] Id.

[4] CDIA, Twitter (May 28, 2020), https://twitter.com/CDIApy/status/1266143401537417217.

[5] Will Costa, Paraguay: indigenous girl’s murder fires public outrage at child sexual abuse, Guardian (July 17, 2020, 6:00 EDT), https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/jul/17/paraguay-child-sexual-abuse-violence-pregnancy.

[6] Id.

[7] Embarazo adolescente, problemática que convoca al Gobierno, Ministerio de Salud Pública y Bienestar Social (May 7, 2017), https://www.mspbs.gov.py/portal/11914/embarazo-adolescente-problematica-que-convoca-al-gobierno.html.

[8] Human rights: Paraguay has failed to protect a 10-year old girl child who became pregnant after being raped, say UN experts, United Nations Hum. Rts. Off. High Commissioner (May 11, 2015), https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15944&LangID=E .

[9] Santi Carneri, 14-year-old Paraguayan teenager victim of sexual abuse dies giving birth, El País (Mar. 22, 2018), https://elpais.com/internacional/2018/03/22/america/1521679648_160731.html.

[10] Margaret Wurth, 14, Pregnant from Rape, Dead in Childbirth, Hum. Rts. Watch, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/03/26/14-pregnant-rape-dead-childbirth (last visited Jan. 3, 2022).

[11] Costa, supra note 5; Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean, Guttmacher Inst. (Mar. 2018), https://www.guttmacher.org/sites/default/files/factsheet/ib_aww-latin-america.pdf.

[12] Demand Comprehensive Sex Education in Paraguay, Amnesty Int’l, https://www.amnesty.org/en/petition/exige-educacion-integral-sexualidad-paraguay/.

[13] Id.

[14] They are girls, not mothers: Steps to Ending Sexual Violence Against Children and Adolescents and Forcing Girls into Motherhood in Paraguay, Amnesty Int’l, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/amr45/5031/2021/en/.

[15] William Costa, Average of two girls aged 10 to 14 give birth daily in Paraguay, Amnesty finds, Guardian (Dec. 1, 2021), https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/nov/30/paraguay-child-teen-pregnancies.

[16] Laurence Blair & Santi Carneri, ‘It destroyed the girl she was’: the toll of pregnancy on Paraguay’s children, Guardian (July 19, 2018, 3:30 EDT), https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/jul/13/destroyed-girl-she-was-toll-pregnancy-paraguay-children

[17] Amnesty International, supra note 14.

[18] Convention on the Rights of the Child Art. 34, Nov. 20, 1989, 1577 U.N.T.S. 3.

[19] Id.