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.

The United States Must Address the Issue with the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility

The U.S. is the only advanced nation that has not set a minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction below which children cannot be arrested or taken to court.[1] Furthermore, most U.S. states do not have a set minimum age of prosecution in juvenile courts. There are 22 U.S. states and territories that do have specific minimum ages for delinquency adjudication:

  • California and Massachusetts have a minimum age of 12 by statute
  • Nebraska has a minimum age of 11 by statute
  • Fifteen states / territories have a minimum age of 10 by statute: American Samoa, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, and Wisconsin
  • Washington state has a minimum age of 8.
  • Connecticut and New York have a minimum age of 7
  • North Carolina has a minimum age of 6 [2]

All the U.S. states that do have a minimum age for delinquency adjudication are below the international standard. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) does not have a specified age of criminal responsibility, but the most common minimum age of criminal responsibility in States parties that have ratified the CRC is 14.[3]

The U.S. states with the highest set minimum age of delinquency adjudication is set at age 12. Evidence in the field of child development indicates that children who are 12 and 13 years old are still evolving in areas of maturity and the capacity of abstract reasoning. Therefore, it is unlikely they understand the impact of their actions or comprehend criminal proceedings. Children under the age of 14 are not culpable for their behavior in the same way as adults or older adolescents.[4]

Without having an appropriate minimum age standard in the U.S., the procedures for determining which young children are mature enough for formal court processing have proven inconsistent and discriminatory.[5]

Entering children into the juvenile justice system is traumatic and can lead to damaging collateral consequences, such as:

  • Barriers to education and employment,
  • Fines and fees,
  • Risk to immigration status,
  • Physical and sexual abuse,
  • Suicide, and
  • Disruptions to mental and physical development that incarcerated children experience [6]

The U.S. needs to implement an acceptable minimum age standard in order to reduce these drastic consequences for children that may not be criminally culpable for their actions and ensure children receive just punishments for their actions.


[1] https://yclj.org/minimum-age

[2] https://njdc.info/practice-policy-resources/state-profiles/multi-jurisdiction-data/minimum-age-for-delinquency-adjudication-multi-jurisdiction-survey/

[3] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General comment No. 24 (2019) on children’s rights in the child justice system

[4] https://yclj.org/minimum-age

[5] https://yclj.org/minimum-age

[6] https://www.njjn.org/our-work/raising-the-minimum-age-for-prosecuting-children

Disproportionate Representation of Children of Color in the Child Welfare System

The child welfare system and foster care were initially implemented as tools to help provide assistance to dependent children while the biological parents were temporarily unable to do so either because of neglect or abuse in the home. At face value, this purpose seems commendable. However, families and children of color have been disproportionately represented in these systems and are “more likely to experience negative outcomes compared to white families.”[1] According to 2019 data from The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Black children only comprise 14% of the population, but account for 23% of children in foster care.[2] Similarly, non-Hispanic children with multiple race groups only comprise 5% of the population, but account for 8% of the children in foster care.[3]

The American Bar Association has identified five factors that may explain the disproportionality and disparity surrounding racial groups and low-income families in the child welfare system:

  • correlation between poverty and maltreatment;
  • visibility or exposure bias;
  • limited access to services;
  • geographic restrictions; and
  • child welfare professionals knowingly or unknowingly letting personal biases impact their actions or decisions.[4]

Notably, many of these factors boil down to (1) families lacking resources and access, and (2) child welfare reporter and investigator bias.

At the individual level, addressing the disproportionality and disparities in the child welfare system call for confronting one’s own implicit and explicit biases in reporting, investigating, intervening, and making decisions in the placement process.[5] This is not only important for attorneys, judges, social workers, and other professionals involved in making decisions in child welfare cases, but also anyone who plays a role in referring a child to the system. At the systematic and policy level, other strategies for addressing the disparities include, “developing culturally responsive practices, recruiting and retaining foster families of color, engaging communities of color when developing new policies, and using data to identify and address disparate outcomes.”[6] For a deeper analysis of these strategies see the additional resources linked at the bottom of the Disproportionality and Race Equity in Child Welfare article.

Legislative measures have been enacted at both the federal and state level to address the disparities in the child welfare system. Federal acts include the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018, the Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994, and the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. While state legislation varies, it typically aims to engage communities of color in creating child welfare policies or requires states to examine outcomes for children of color in the child welfare system.[7]

So, why does this matter? Simply put—there is a cost that each child pays for entering the child welfare system, even though they enter the system through no fault of their own. Furthermore, this cost is often higher for children of color. Children of color are “​​more likely to experience multiple placements, less likely to be reunited with their birth families, more likely to experience group care, less likely to establish a permanent placement and more likely to experience poor social, behavioral and educational outcomes.”[8] So long as disparities in outcomes exist for children of color and White children who enter the child welfare system, it cannot be said that the system is working equally for all children. Thus, it is imperative that individual actors and legislatures continue to pursue strategies to address the disproportionality and disparities in the child welfare system.

[1] Disproportionality and Race Equity in Child Welfare, Nat’l Conference of State Legislatures (Jan. 26, 2021) https://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/disproportionality-and-race-equity-in-child-welfare.aspx#Numbers.

[2] Child Population by race in the United States, The Annie E. Casey Foundation: Kids Count Data Center (2019)

https://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/bar/103-child-population-by-race?loc=1&loct=1#1/any/false/1729/68,69,67,12,70,66,71/424; Children in foster care by race and Hispanic origin in the United States, The Annie E. Casey Foundation: Kids Count Data Center (2019) https://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/bar/6246-children-in-foster-care-by-race-and-hispanic-origin?loc=1&loct=1#1/any/false/1729/2638,2601,2600,2598,2603,2597,2602/12993

[3] Child Population by race in the United States, supra note 2; Children in foster care by race and Hispanic origin in the United States, supra note 2.

[4] Krista Ellis, Race and Poverty Bias in the Child Welfare System: Strategies for Child Welfare Practitioners, Am. Bar Ass’n (Dec. 17, 2019) https://www.americanbar.org/groups/public_interest/child_law/resources/child_law_practiceonline/january—december-2019/race-and-poverty-bias-in-the-child-welfare-system—strategies-f/.

[5] Ellis, supra note 5; Disproportionality and Race Equity in Child Welfare, supra note 1.

[6] Disproportionality and Race Equity in Child Welfare, supra note 1.

[7] See id.

[8] Id.