SANTO DOMINGO – Teenage girls in the Dominican Republic are being denied their sexual and reproductive rights, including access to safe abortions, Human Rights Watch said in a report published on Tuesday, in which it urges authorities to implement a new comprehensive sexual education plan.
In addition, the 50-page document titled “‘I Felt Like the World Was Falling Down on Me’: Adolescent Girls’ Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in the Dominican Republic” urges the decriminalization of abortion to stop unwanted teenage pregnancies and reduce the number of unsafe abortions.
In the text, HRW documents how the authorities have postponed launching a long-awaited sex education program, thus leaving “hundreds of thousands of teens” – both male and female – without precise scientific information about their health.
The country has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the Pan American Health Organization and the total ban on abortion there means that a teenage girl experiencing an unwanted pregnancy must continue to carry the unborn child against her will or obtain an illegal abortion, a move that often puts her health, and possibly her life, in grave danger.
“Girls need to be equipped with the information and health services to prevent unwanted pregnancy, and to make informed choices about their bodies and relationships,” said Margaret Wurth, the senior women’s rights researcher at HRW.
“By denying their sexual and reproductive rights, Dominican authorities are failing to give girls and young women every opportunity to continue their education and live healthy, successful, and fulfilling lives,” she added.
The report is based on interviews with 30 girls and women who became pregnant before their 18th birthdays and dozens of other people, including students, young members of the LGBT community, healthcare and social services providers and experts on teenage pregnancy.
The high rate of teen pregnancy in the Dominican Republic is a result of inadequate sex education in the country and the fact that birth control methods are not adequately available.
Public health figures show that 20.5 percent of Dominican females between 15 and 19 years of age get pregnant during their teens and most of these pregnancies are neither planned nor desired.
In addition, the fact that current laws make abortion a crime creates a generalized fear and pushes young women toward having clandestine abortions.
International human rights experts have concluded that denying access to abortion is a form of “discrimination” and endangers a number of human rights, and the United Nations urges governments to provide students with comprehensive sex education from an early age.
Both international and Dominican law establish that minors have the right to get information about their sexual and reproductive health, but the country is under international scrutiny because it does not provide scientifically precise, rights-based comprehensive sex education in the schools.
In 2015, authorities announced plans to incorporate comprehensive sex education into the national curriculum and prepare materials for educators but the National Education Board had not approved the new focus for nationwide implementation.
A 2013 survey by the Health Ministry, the most recent figures available, found that 27 percent of females 15-19 and 21 percent of those 20-24 need birth control items.