U.N. Human Rights Expert Condemns Broad Range of Reproductive Rights Violations as Torture

For Immediate Release

U.N. Human Rights Expert Condemns Broad Range of Reproductive Rights Violations as Torture

WASHINGTON - Child marriage, forced pregnancy testing in schools, abuse of women seeking maternal health services and restrictive abortion laws can amount to torture or ill-treatment and must be eradicated, according to a new report by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture.

In the report that covers a broad range of reproductive rights violations, the Special Rapporteur calls for the decriminalization of abortion and for states to ensure all women access to abortion services in cases of rape, incest, fatal fetal impairment and when pregnancy poses a risk to the woman’s life or physical or mental health.  The report also calls on states to outlaw forced and coerced sterilization under all circumstances, eradicate child marriage and forced pregnancy testing in schools, as well as eliminate the mistreatment and abuse of women seeking maternal health care.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has steadfastly advocated on behalf of women and girls who have endured these serious human rights violations for the full recognition that these acts amount to torture or ill-treatment and violate international human rights law. The Special Rapporteur’s report highlights the Center’s recent case in Kenya involving two women who were illegally detained for their inability to pay their hospital fees and were subjected to physical, mental, and verbal abuse.

Said Rebecca Brown, director of global advocacy at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Laws and policies that strip women and girls of their fundamental human right to make their own decisions about their reproductive health, lives and futures can absolutely amount to torture.

“The Special Rapporteur condemning these reproductive rights violations send a strong message to U.N. member states and should compel countries to amend restrictive abortion laws and eradicate discriminatory practices that violate women and girls’ human rights.”

Special Rapporteurs are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council—the U.N.’s main human rights body—and mandated to advise on thematic issues or country situations. This new report highlights the need for states to take into account the experiences of women, girls, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons in relation to torture and ill-treatment.

In the report, the Special Rapporteur recognizes that the expulsion of pregnant girls from schools constitutes discrimination and ill-treatment. The report further recommends implementing and enforcing uniform laws that prohibit marriage before the age of 18 with no exceptions, as well as providing appropriate assistance to women and girls living in forced marriages and helping women leave the marriage.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has documented the impact of reproductive rights violations on adolescents and women, including how these violations amount to torture and ill-treatment.  Forced Out: Mandatory Pregnancy Testing and the Expulsion of Pregnant Students in Tanzanian Schools reports on the vast numbers of young women affected by invasive, mandatory pregnancy testing and subsequent expulsion from school if they are pregnant, as well as the serious human rights implications of the practice.

Child Marriage in South Asia: Stop the Impunity focuses on the violations of women and girls’ fundamental human rights—including their reproductive rights—that stem from child marriage in the region. Despite international and local laws clearly condemning child marriage, South Asian countries’ refusal to address this illegal practice could lead to a projected 130 million young girls being married against their will by 2030.

The Special Rapporteur’s report demonstrates how highly restrictive abortion laws that prohibit abortions even in cases of incest, rape or fetal impairment or to safeguard the life or health of the woman violate women’s right to be free from torture and ill-treatment. The Special Rapporteur noted that in states where abortion is legal, services must be accessible in practice.

Recommendations in the report to states also include:

  • Setting forth clear guidance on implementing domestic abortion legislation and ensure that it is interpreted broadly; and monitoring the practical implementation of legislation to ensure that persons are provided the right to legal services in practice;
  • Guaranteeing immediate and unconditional treatment of persons seeking emergency medical care, including as a result of illegal abortion;
  • Outlawing forced or coerced sterilization in all circumstances and providing special protection to individuals belonging to marginalized groups; and ensuring that health-care providers obtain free, full and informed consent for such procedures and fully explaining the risks, benefits and alternatives in a comprehensible format, without resorting to threats or inducements, in every case; and
  • Implementing and enforcing uniform laws that prohibit child marriage before the age of 18, with no exceptions on the basis of parental consent or personal status laws; extending the prohibition to cover traditional and religious marriages; providing appropriate assistance to women and girls living in forced marriages, including by helping women leave the marriage with a share of matrimonial assets, custody of children and the right to remarry; and providing support to victims’ dependents and members of immediate families.

The Center for Reproductive Rights uses the law to advance reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right that all governments are legally obligated to protect, respect, and fulfill.

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