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“I was cooking in the home of the family where I worked when my little girl called me and told me about it. He said, ‘Mommy, they did this to me.’ I almost fainted. He kept repeating to her: ‘But if you’re a girl, you’re only 13 years old. You are a girl … “. What Marta, who speaks, does not dare to pronounce was a violation. A stranger attacked her daughter when she returned from buying bread in Zulia, the Venezuelan department where she lived, and the girl, Lucía, became pregnant before she was 14. By the time the mother arrived home, the young woman “had already showered ”and was waiting for her with severe vaginal pain and tears that to this day, more than a year later, do not stop. Both, currently neighbors of La Gabarra (Colombia), prefer to use fictitious names to protect their identity.
Marta did not go to work the day after learning about the episode of sexual violence that her daughter experienced. He got into the tub with her and cleaned it for a long time. “I was just asking him to forget about all that. And I thought I could, but it wasn’t like that ”. Months later, when they found out about the pregnancy, Lucía tried to hang herself with a tape in her room at home. “My body was changing, I felt lonely. I did not want to have that within. I thought I was not old enough to take care of him and I was not going to be able to go to school or anything ”, he narrates between sobs, in the privacy of a hotel room in La Gabarra, in the North of Santander, where he emigrated.
Abortion was not even an option in Venezuela: it is illegal and is punishable by six months to two years in prison. And up to three years for the practitioner. “They told us about a girl who practiced them clandestinely, but I didn’t want to lose my daughter trying for anything in the world,” says Marta. According to estimates of Human Right Watch, 13% of maternal deaths in the world are attributed to unsafe abortion. There are between 68,000 and 78,000 preventable annual deaths.
In Venezuela, the government does not release official figures in this regard. It only recognizes that voluntary interruptions of pregnancy (IVE) without guarantees are the third cause of maternal mortality. According to the latest report from Women on the Edge of 2019For every four deliveries, there was an abortion. Between August and December, there were about 15 newspapers, of which a third were for children under 12 years of age. In Colombia, abortion is a right in three causes (malformation of the fetus, risk of life for the mother and sexual abuse).
Magdymar León, coordinator of the Venezuelan Association for Alternative Sex Education (Avesa) criticizes, on the one hand, the lack of access to contraceptive methods and, on the other, the “so restrictive” legal framework: “We still get very frequent reports from women who do so. they continue to practice introducing sharp objects into the vagina or drinking toxic concoctions ”. Vannesa Yubisay Ana Rosales-Gautier, one of the most recognized Latin American activists in this field, who has been active for almost a decade, adds, through a telephone interview: “The best thing is that women who need it, go to a feminist organization. Everything else is black market and expired or fake pills ”. Another option for which “they can afford it”, Leon emphasizes, is to emigrate to have an abortion. The pandemic somewhat stopped this path, but the gradual return to normality has reactivated it.
They asked me if I wanted to have the baby and I said no. That what I wanted was to study
“I just wanted to get out of there,” Lucia repeated with a small voice. And that they did. Both crossed the border from Zulia (Venezuela) to the village of La Gabarra (Colombia) with the initial intention of raising the baby away from the streets that reminded her of horror over and over again. In January, with almost five months of gestation, she arrived at the mobile clinics of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) to take a pregnancy test. Dr. Diana Jaramillo was surprised, since the pregnancy was evident, but she had a consultation with her, “who arrived terrified and ashamed,” she recalls. “They asked me if I wanted to have the baby and I said no. That what I wanted was to study ”, says the girl. Jaramillo then activated all the protocols to refer his case to the Colombian public health services. In less than two weeks, Lucía was already back at La Gabarra, with psychological and psychiatric support until today. And without an unwanted child, the fruit of rape.
Word of mouth and secrecy
Lucia’s trial took place in Bogotá. MSF only performs pharmacological IVEs up to 12 weeks’ gestation. Everything that exceeds that period requires a surgical procedure that is only performed at the Hospital de La Victoria, in the capital. “They arrive there with the tests already done, the fetus is subjected to something similar to euthanasia and the woman is induced to go into labor. With such an advanced gestation it is the only way, but they are procedures that have improved a lot ”, explains Dr. Jaramillo. The stay and the transfer were at the expense of MSF and, the abortion itself, was assumed by the Administrator of the resources of the general system of social security and health of the Colombian state (Adres).
From 2018 to the end of August 2021, 262 women have thus interrupted their pregnancy in the Municipality of La Gabarra, with the mediation of MSF. Of which, 19 were referred. “Most find out by word of mouth,” explains Jaramillo. “Many come to Colombia and consult knowing exactly what they want and others discover that they have that option here.”
However, even though it is legal to interrupt pregnancy in Colombia, more and more women are criminalized and condemned for doing so. Although the number of prosecutions is not constant, since 2008 there have been around 400 a year, 320% more than in 2005. This is how the report details Criminalization for the crime of abortion in Colombia, made by the Table for the Life and Health of Women and researchers from the University of Los Andes.
The Venezuelan association Avesa, which has been defending the right of women to choose over their own bodies for almost four decades, points out that a great global awareness process is still needed. “You have to educate the population, religious and not, so that they understand that it is a matter of human rights. To prohibit abortion is to violate the rights of all of us, ”laments León. For Rosales-Gautier the problem starts from the same refusal to open the debate in many countries such as Venezuela: “When not even the National Institute of Statistics manages an official figure on the number of women who abort in the country, you realize what serious matter. What we have in front of us is a legislative body that does not want to leave behind its imposed beliefs. That is the abandonment of the State ”.
At least 262 women have benefited from the interruption of pregnancy in the Municipality of La Gabarra with MSF, since 2018. Of these, 19 have been referred
When she returned from Bogotá, Lucía began an individual therapeutic process and another with her mother, who still cannot forgive herself for having gone to work that day. “They are very committed patients and very interested in finding alternatives,” says Lina Quintero, an MSF psychologist who treated Lucía. “The cohesion between the two has facilitated the process to recognize herself as a survivor, beyond as a victim.” But the consequences of this “successful case” are immeasurable. Nightmares and insomnia take turns each night; and depression and fear prevent her from enjoying the independence of a girl her age. Going out alone is one of the small achievements to celebrate.
Despite the fact that the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned several times that bans do not stop abortions, decriminalization remains a pending issue in the fight for women’s rights in Latin America and the Caribbean. In Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador it is prohibited under any exception. Guatemala, Venezuela, Peru, Paraguay and Costa Rica are the countries with the most restrictive legislation and only allow it in case the life or health of the pregnant woman is in danger. But sometimes, the bureaucracy and the lack of guarantees for the practitioners themselves they also condemn this second group into hiding.
Also in Spain, where abortion is free and free up to 14 weeks of gestation, there are more than ten provinces where it is not feasible and hospitals in which a part of the staff declares themselves to be conscientious objectors. The modification of the law that the Government is preparing to amend it has once again put on the table the harassment suffered by women in front of the clinics that practice it. This same week there are summoned in eight cities of the country meetings of voluntary to pray in front of the consultations.
Although Lucía denounced the rape, the Venezuelan authorities never followed up with her case. “I did not want to try again so that the neighbors weren’t talking,” he acknowledges. In fact, in Zulia nobody knows about the decision they made: to emigrate and have an abortion. They have not counted. Lucia’s only support has been her mother. “I get the comments of what people say over there. They think my daughter has already given birth. But now we don’t want to explain anything to anyone. It is not their problem ”, ditch Marta. They do not even think of returning to Venezuela, in La Gabarra no one knows their past. Guilt and shame continue to accompany the process of voluntary termination of pregnancy for many women. The Venezuelan activist Rosales-Gautier attributes it to “everything that is not aligned with the patriarchy.” But that dynamic is changing. When everyone is aware that this is an open debate, we can ask ourselves the million dollar question: How do we make women stop dying for this preventable cause? The question that has been around Lucía’s head in recent months is another: When will I be able to go back to school?