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In collaboration with partners in

The Center for Reproductive Law and Policy
DEMUS, Estudio para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer

Argentina Bolivia Brazil Colombia El Salvador

Guatemala Jamaica México Perú

Table of Contents, Glossary, Introduction

Women of theWorld:
Laws and Policies Affecting Their Reproductive Lives

Latin America and the Caribbean

Page 2





Published by the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy
120 Wall Street
New York, NY10005

First edition, November 1997

Entire content copyright ©1997,The Center for Reproductive
Law and Policy and DEMUS. All rights reserved. Reproduc-
tion or transmission in any form, by any means, (electronic,
photocopying, recording, or otherwise), in whole or part,
without the prior consent of the Center for Reproductive Law
and Policy or DEMUS is expressly prohibited.This prohibition
does not apply to the organizations listed in the Acknowledg-
ments, for each of their corresponding country chapters.

ISBN 1-890671-00-2
ISBN 1-890671-03-7

Page 108

prohibitions for marriage exists, such as if one of the two leads
an immoral life, has a “passion for illegal games,”habitually gets
drunk or consumes illicit drugs, or if either one suffers from an
illness that puts the health or life of the other or their child in
danger.383 Consent can also be denied if neither of the two
seeking to marry has economic means sufficient to carry out
the responsibilities of marriage.384 When the denial is unjusti-
fied, the judge can authorize the marriage of the minors upon
their request.385



Sexual crimes against minors and adolescents that are prohib-
ited by the Penal Code are rape, sexual aggression distinct from
rape, statutory rape, and other attacks against sexual free-
dom.386 Rape, whether vaginal or anal, of a minor less than 12
years old is punished by ten to fourteen years’ imprisonment.387

The punishment is increased by one-third in the following
cases: if the crime is carried out by the parents, siblings, or
adoptive parents; if the aggressor is a government authority or
anyone who had the victim under his or her custody; when the
crime involved is an abuse of “domestic relationships”; when it
is committed by two or more persons; and when “brutal,
degrading, or humiliating” means, methods, or instruments
have been used.388 “Other sexual aggressions” include those
acts carried out with violence but without actual intercourse,
for example, oral carnal access or the introduction of objects
into the anus or vagina, the latter two carrying longer sen-
tences.389 The above-described acts carry sentences of six to
eight years in prison, or ten to fourteen years.390

Engaging in carnal access with a minor between 14 and 16
years of age through deceit is known as statutory rape.391 The
punishment is one to three years of imprisonment.392 If the vic-
tim is between 12 and 14 years old, the punishment is two to
four years in prison, even if consent was given for carnal
access.393 Other attacks on the sexual freedom of an adolescent
that constitute crimes are sexual harassment, sexual acts differ-
ent from carnal access, corruption of minors, inducement, pro-
motion and favoring of prostitution, indecent exposure,
pornography, and using minors for pornography. Sexual harass-
ment of a minor under 12 years old is punished with six months
to two years in prison.394 Sexual acts other than carnal access
that are committed through deception on a person between 14
and 16 years395 are punished by a sentence of six months to two
years in prison.396 If the victim is between 12 and 14 years of age,
the sanction is one to three years in prison, even where the act
is consensual.397

Corruption of minors less than 18 years old “through acts
other than carnal access,” even though the victim consents to

participate in such acts,398 is penalized by imprisonment for
two to six years.399 The punishment is increased to four to
eigth years if the victim is under 12; if it is carried out for profit;
if it is performed through deception, violence, abuse of author-
ity or trust, or any other means of intimidation; or if it is com-
mitted by an older relative, an adoptive parent, a biological or
adopted sibling, or someone charged with guardianship or cus-
tody of the victim.400


In El Salvador, the principle objective of education is to achieve
the comprehensive development of the human being and con-
tribute to the “building of a more prosperous, fair and humane
society.”401 The Ministry of Education, in its curriculum for
secondary education, incorporates the subject of sexuality into
the curriculum for students at this level.402 The principal
aspects of sexuality included in the education program are: the
psychobiology of an adolescent’s sexuality, identity and sexual
roles, personal and social responsibility in sexuality, conse-
quences of sexual activities, and sexuality and culture.403


Page 109

1. Political Constitution of the Republic of El Salvador, with all its reforms, entry into effect

Dec. 20,1983, art. 84. Publishers, Lis San Salvador,1996. [hereinafter EL SAL. CONST.].

2. Id., art. 62: “The official language is Castilian. The government has a duty to ensure its
conservation and teaching. The indigenous languages spoken within the national territory

are part of the cultural heritage and will be preserved, disseminated and respected.”



4. Id.
5. Id., at 762.
6. Id.
7. Id.
8. Id.
9. Id.

PRACTICES FOR 1996, at 442 (1997).

11. Id.
12. Id.
13. EL SAL. CONST., supra note 1.
14. Id., art. 85.
15. Id.
16. Id.
17. Id., art. 86.
18. Id., the Constitution denominates the branches of Public Power of the State “bodies.”
19. Id.
20. Id.
21. Id., art.150.
22. Id., art.154.
23. Id., art.168.
24. Id., arts.157,159, and 168.
25. Id., art.159.
26. Id.
27. Id., art.166.
28. Id., 29 and 167.
29. For a definition of this institution, see section on Legislative Branch.

30. EL SAL. CONST., art.131, cl. 37.

31. Id.
32. Id.
33. Id., art.121.
34. Id.
35. Id., art.125.
36. Id., art. 238.
37. Id.The Legislative Assembly is responsible for establishing and defining what constitute
“serious” crimes committed by representatives and for declaring the initiation of the respec-

tive criminal proceeding. Id., arts. 236 and 238.
38. Id., art. 238.
39. Id., art. 237.
40. Id., art.131.
41. Id., cl. 19. Justices of the Supreme Court of Justice, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, the
Attorney General of the Republic, the Public Defender, the Human Rights Ombudsman,

and Members of the National Judiciary Council.

42. Id., arts.133.
43. Id., art.134.
44. Id., art.135.
45. Id., arts.135 and 136.
46. Id., art.137.
47. Id.
48. Id., art.135.
49. This system was codified during the time of the Roman Empire. The Compilation of Jus-
tinian and his other works such as Institutions, Codex, Digestas, Novellaes, etc., are collectively
referred to as Corpus Juris Civilis,to distinguish the civil system from English common law
and Canon Law. SeeBLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY, at 168 (6th ed.1991).
50. EL SAL. CONST., art.172 and Organic Judicial Law, Decree No.123, Jun. 6,1984, art.1.

51. Id., and Organic Judicial Law, art.1.
52. Organic Judicial Law, art.15.

53. Id., art. 22.
54. EL SAL. CONST., art.172.

55. Id., art.182.
56. Organic Judicial Law, art. 5.

57. Id., art. 57.There are 11Chambers in the capital (San Salvador), 4 in the City of Santa Ana,
5 in the City of San Miguel and 1 in each of the following cities: Usulatan, Cojutepeque,

San Vicente, and Nueva San Salvador. Id., arts. 6-10.
58. Id., see also arts. 35-42.
59. Id., see also art. 43.
60. Id.
61. Id., art. 64. The amount in controversy must not exceed 10,000 colones.
62. Id.
63. EL SAL. CONST., art.172.

64. Id., art.14 and Organic Judicial Law, art. 24.
65. Id., art. 216.
66. Id., art. 21.
67. Id., art.181.
68. Id., arts.193 and 194.
69. Id., art.191.
70. Id.
71. Id., art.193.
72. Id., art.194.
73. Id.
74 Id., art. 200. El Salvador is divided into fourteen departments. THE WORLD ALMANAC,
supra note 3, at 761.
75 Id., art. 200.
76. Id.
77. Id., art. 80.
78. Id., art. 202.
79. Id., art. 203
80. Id., art. 204.
81. Id., arts. 246 and 144.
82. Id., art.183.
83. Organic Judicial Law, art. 24.

84. For example, civil laws, through the Civil Code, make reference to custom as a source of

law, in different articles related to contracts, purchases and sale, leasing and powers of attor-

ney. Seearts. 2,1417,1626,1728,1732,1774, and 1877.
85. EL SAL. CONST., art.144.

86. Id., art.146.
87. Id., art.131, cl. 7.
88. Id., art.144.
89. Id., art.149.
90. El Salvador has signed and ratified among others the following: International Covenant

on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, adoptedDec.16,1966, 993 U.N.T.S. 3 (entry into force
Sept. 3,1976) (ratified by El Salvador on Nov. 30,1979); International Covenant on Civil and

Political Rights, adoptedDec.16,1966, 999 U.N.T.S.171 (entry into forceMar. 23,1976) (ratified
by El Salvador on Nov. 30,1979); Convention on the Rights of the Child, opened for signature
Nov. 20,1989, 28 I.L.M.1448 (entry into forceSept. 2,1990) (ratified by El Salvador on Jun.10,

ERAL: STATUS AS AT DEC. 31,1995, ST/LEG/SER.E/14, at 95,111,121 and 198.

91. Among the treaties from the Inter-American system signed and ratified by the govern-

ment of El Salvador are: American Convention on Human Rights, signed Nov. 22,1969, 9

I.L.M. 101 (entry into forceJul. 18, 1978) (ratified by El Salvador on Jun. 23, 1978); Additional
Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social

and Cultural Rights - “Protocol of San Salvador”, signedNov. 17, 1988 O.A.S.T.S. 69 (1988)
(ratified by El Salvador on Jun. 6,1995); Inter-American Convention for the Prevention and

Punishment of Torture, adoptedFeb. 28, 1987 OEA/SER.L.V/II.92 doc. 31 rev. 3 May 3,
1996 (ratified by El Salvador on Dec. 5,1994).

92. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, opened
for signatureMar. 1, 1980, 1249 U.N.T.S. 13 (entry into forceSep. 3, 1981) (signed by El Salvador
on Nov.14,1980 and ratified on Aug.19,1981). Multilateral Treaties, supranote 90, at 95,111,
121 and 198.

93. Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence

Against Women, adopted June 9, 1994, 33 ILM 1534 (entry into forceMar. 5,1995) (signed by
El Salvador on Aug.14,1995 and ratified on Nov.13,1995).

94. EL SAL. CONST., art. 65.





Page 215


between 1990 and 1993, STIs among adolescents increased by
14%, and the maternal mortality rate of women under 20 is still
6% higher than that of older women.

Among the nations discussed in this report, there are only
a few that utilize laws to promote adolescents’ reproductive
health. In four of them — Argentina, Bolivia, El Salvador, and
Jamaica — there are no public policies or national programs to
meet the reproductive needs of adolescents. In Argentina, very
few provinces have initiated programs focused on the care of
low-income teenage mothers. In Jamaica, the private sector
assists with health needs and seeks to facilitate the return to
school of adolescent parents. In the remaining six countries,
there are some policies that address reproductive health and the
family planning needs of adolescents.The common objectives
of these policies include the prevention of unintended preg-
nancies and abortions among adolescents; the prevention of
HIV/AIDS and STIs; the provision of information on family
planning; and the eradication of sexual violence against
minors. In these six countries, the trend is to formulate specific
goals regarding adolescent reproductive health as part of either
their general policies on these matters or of broader policies
that relate to all adolescents. Peru, for instance, has a specific
integrated health care program for adolescents; one of its com-
ponents is reproductive health. One of the most important
aims of the National STI/AIDS Program in Brazil is to fight
child prostitution.

Although all countries except Argentina and Jamaica are
characterized by common policy goals for adolescent repro-
ductive health, they differ in terms of the strategies and activi-
ties undertaken to implement them. In Colombia, Mexico, and
Peru, the main strategy to reduce unwanted pregnancies and
abortions has been to initiate activities to provide family plan-
ning information. In Guatemala, educational campaigns on
HIV/AIDS have focused on promoting chastity among young
people. In Colombia, the national public policy on equality for
women has as one of its goals the prevention of abortions and
unwanted pregnancies, through the design and implementa-
tion of family planning activities that facilitate adolescent access
to contraceptives. Mexico has opened special reproductive
health units for adolescents in 102 health establishments across
all thirty-two states. In Peru, the Comprehensive Health
Program for Schoolchildren and Adolescents also services ado-
lescents’ reproductive health problems. It covers 40% of the
adolescent population and, for the period from 1996 to 2000,
has established a goal of achieving a contraceptive coverage rate
for adolescents living with partners at not less than 60%.

National laws vary in terms of the legal protection they
afford adolescent health.Where legal protection of adolescents
exists, it is does not always cover their reproductive health. In

some cases, instead of protecting adolescent health, the law
seems to affect it negatively. For example in Mexico, the Federal
Constitution establishes that parents have the obligation to pre-
serve the physical and mental health of their children, and chil-
dren are legally protected from violence in many states.
However, these states also have obsolete norms in their penal
laws, which grant parents the right to inflict corporal punish-
ment on their children. On the other hand, in Bolivia, Brazil,
and Peru, special national laws that regulate the rights of chil-
dren and adolescents also guarantee certain reproductive
rights. In Brazil, the Single Health System covers pregnant
adolescents. In Peru, the state must provide special care for ado-
lescents during pregnancy, birth, and subsequently, and adoles-
cents also have the right to receive sex education and family
planning information. The Bolivian Code for Minors estab-
lishes the state’s obligation to provide specialized care to preg-
nant minors before and after birth.

Current laws do not take into consideration the rights of
adolescents as users of health services. Some regulations that
apply exclusively to professional health care providers contain
special rules regarding the care of adolescent patients. For
example, in Guatemala, the Medical Council’s Ethics Code
requires the presence of parents or guardians when a gyneco-
logical examination is performed on a minor, unless there is a
gynecological/obstetric emergency or it is ordered by a court.
This norm also establishes that patient confidentiality on preg-
nancy diagnosis or assistance at childbirth is not mandatory
when the patients are minors.

Although the provisions contained in the legal codes of
Bolivia, Brazil, and Peru that establish reproductive rights for
children and adolescents are very limited, they are the best
regional examples of such laws. In fact, Peru is the only coun-
try that has legally recognized the reproductive right of ado-
lescents to sex education and family planning in its Minor and
Adolescent Code. In addition, the situation in Guatemala
serves to illustrate the role that ethical codes of health care
providers could play in the regulation of adolescent rights as
users of reproductive health care services.


In the nine countries described herein, the average age of first
marriage ranges from 18.5 to 23, with the lowest age prevailing
in El Salvador and Mexico and the highest in Argentina. Civil
laws in these countries establish the age when people may
marry without obtaining authorization from a third party and
the special circumstances under which minors may obtain
judicial authorization to marry. In Argentina and Brazil, indi-
viduals can get married without authorization at the age of 21,
while in the other seven nations, this age is 18. In Jamaica, the

Page 216


minimum legal age of first marriage is 16; unlike other
countries, there are no exceptions to this rule, and all marriages
of persons under 16 are invalid. In El Salvador, parents,
guardians, or judges can deny authorization to marry to indi-
viduals under 18 on grounds related to their behavior and their
inability to support a family. In El Salvador, as in Colombia, if
a minor has a child or is pregnant, she may be eligible to marry
at below the minimum legal age of first marriage.

In seven Latin American countries, except El Salvador,
national laws establish different minimum ages of first mar-
riage for women and men who seek to marry without autho-
rization from parents, guardians, or judges. However, the law
does not provide a reason for this difference. Minimum ages of
first marriage for women vary among 12, 14, and 16; for men,
the corresponding ages are usually two years older.



Although available only in a few nations, statistics regarding
sexual violence against adolescents and minors indicate that
this issue is a cause for great concern. Although all nine Latin
American and Caribbean countries described herein punish
such offenses severely and penalties may include life imprison-
ment, this legal harshness contrasts sharply with the lack of
policies or programs directed at eradicating sexual violence
both at home and in the streets. In Mexico, it is estimated that
half of all rapes and other sexual crimes are committed against
girls and adolescents; in 60% of the reported cases, the aggres-
sors were relatives of the victim, including her parents. In
Colombia, the average age for adolescent rape is 14, which rep-
resents 3.1% of all reported rapes. A similar pattern occurs in
Mexico, where 39% of all aggressors were boyfriends, friends,
or neighbors and 26% were relatives.

Penal laws that punish sexual crimes against minors and
adolescents are similar in all nine nations profiled in this report.
Legal protection extends to children between the ages of 7 and
18, and the range of crimes covered is broad. The most com-
mon crimes are rape (intercourse using physical violence);
statutory rape (sexual acts using deceit); incest; abusive sexual
acts (any sexual acts other than intercourse); abduction with
sexual intentions; “corruption” of minors; encouragement of
child prostitution or pornography; and sexual harassment of
children and adolescents.The penalty for each of these crimes
depends upon the age of the victim and increases in severity as
the age of the minor decreases. The aggressor’s relationship
with the victim is the most important aggravating circum-
stance in these kinds of crimes; the closer the relationship with
the victim, the more serious the crime.

In some of the countries studied, there are obsolete and

discriminatory provisions against adolescents. For example, in
Argentina, Bolivia, Guatemala, and several Mexican states,
statutory rape is punished only when the adolescent victim is
viewed as “honest.” In Argentinian jurisprudence, the term
“honesty” is synonymous with virginity. In other countries,
“honesty” requires that the adolescent meet several criteria of
good behavior. In certain countries, perpetrators of rape are
exempted from any punishment if they marry the victim after
committing the crime.Although Colombia, Mexico, and Peru
have recently abolished such provisions, Bolivia and Peru have
maintained them in cases of statutory rape and “seduction.”


Sex education programs that are integrated into formal educa-
tion are scarce in the region. In four of the nine Latin
American and Caribbean countries analyzed herein, there are
no sex education programs. In Jamaica, a program that has not
yet been formalized is being implemented in schools. Bolivia,
Colombia, and Peru have legislation and educational programs
directed at students. In Bolivia, programs also train teachers
and produce material regarding sex education that varies
depending upon the age of the target audience.At the primary
education level, the content of sex education is focused mainly
on the development of sexuality and family life; at the sec-
ondary level, educational material is concerned with develop-
ing a responsible sexual life, HIV/AIDS prevention, and family
planning. Colombia’s national sex education plan seeks to
change sex roles, make family relationships more egalitarian,
and increase the knowledge of adolescents of their sexual and
reproductive rights.

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