Peru's Historic Victory for Sexual Rights

Mandy Van Deven, Online Administrator

As many advocates for sexual and reproductive rights can attest, overturning unjust laws and fighting for fair and rights-based policies is often an uphill battle that can take months or, in many cases, years. Advocacy requires tenacity, patience, and resources, and the victories are often few and far between.

This week, the long-standing advocacy efforts of our local Member Association in Peru—INPPARES—bore fruit when the Peruvian Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the health, rights, and autonomy of young people.

In 2006, the government of Peru amended Article 173, Paragraph 3 of the Peruvian Criminal Code in an effort to protect young people from sexual abuse and violence. Although its intention was to take a tough stance against sexual abuse committed against a minor by an adult, the law also criminalized all sexual activity among adolescents between 14 and 18 years old, regardless of consent. Persons caught in violation of the law can receive a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

In addition to violating the basic rights of adolescents, the law left “medical practitioners unclear of the treatment they should provide to adolescents…even jeopardizing pre-natal checkups, public institutional deliveries as the pregnancy is the evidence of the crime.” It also left young people fearful of accessing the services they needed. Said one young Peruvian woman, “I had heard about this law and was scared…I was frightened to go to the hospital because I was scared [the government] would take away my baby or send me to communal housing where I could no longer care for him.”

In Peru, where one in seven young women have given birth by age 19, the threat of harsh legal penalties had a negative impact on the health and well-being of young people. For example, since 2006, the year the law passed, the rates of teen pregnancy and maternal mortality increased among young people.

Ever since this controversial amendment was approved, INPPARES has worked closely with Women’s Link Worldwide and other civil society organizations to challenge the law as an unconstitutional violation of adolescents’ right to health care.

To support the needs of Peruvian youth, the coalition of advocacy groups undertook a risky strategy by initiating a legal negotiation process with the Constitutional Court to challenge the law. If the court denied their claim of unconstitutionality, it would reinforce the law’s legitimacy and leave little recourse to have it overturned in the future.

The proceedings began on shaky ground. Although INPPARES successfully gained the commitment of the Peruvian Medical Association (Colegio Medico) to formally present a complaint to the Constitutional Court, which added validity to their claim, they were told they did not have sufficient standing to file the case. The court asked INPPARES to provide evidence of public support before it would agree to move forward with the proceedings.

When the Constitutional Court requested to see 5,000 signatures from Peruvian citizens who believed the law should be changed, INPPARES altered its strategy and looked to the country’s youth to lead this advocacy campaign.

“Young people are capable of confronting the injustices that affect their lives,” said Ana Victoria Suárez, INPPARES legal counsel.

Within weeks, more than fifty youth groups across the country were mobilized and out in the streets. They went to busy shopping plazas and health fairs to raise awareness and collect signatures from youth and adults alike. They issued press statements, organized rallies, and wrote letters to the Constitutional Court. By reaching out to people living in both rural and urban provinces, the youth network not only met the goal; they more than doubled it.

INPPARES and its partners returned to the legal negotiations with 10,609 signatures asking to overturn Article 173, Paragraph 3. On Monday, the Constitutional Court in Peru announced that the law has been changed, effective immediately. It explicitly recognized the sexual rights of adolescents and the importance of those rights being respected. “The Constitutional Court’s decision has made it clear that the state cannot limit the sexual rights of adolescents,” said Suárez. “This is one less obstacle in our legal system.”

INPPARES' success highlights the importance of engaging the courts in sexual and reproductive rights advocacy. We are proud that our support of INPPARES innovative campaign was effective in overturning this unjust law. We look forward to the wide dissemination of this verdict so that young people can exercise their rights and health providers can adequately meet their needs.

“As a youth activist, being part of this historic process to enforce human rights in Peru is an honor,” said INPPARES youth advocate Carlos Tacuri.“It fills me with hope that young people like me can fulfill our dream of building a more egalitarian society that respects the rights of adolescents.”


Related:
Using the Law to Reduce Health Disparities in Peru

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