El Salvador Rape Victim Sentenced to 30 Years in Jail for Infanticide

On April 6, 2016, Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez woke up with severe pain in her back and went to the communal outhouse.   After losing nearly two liters of blood, her mother took her to hospital for treatment.   As she was recovering, police investigated and found a dead baby at the bottom of the latrine.  Given El Salvador's draconian laws regarding abortion and infanticide, investigators immediately interrogated Evelyn to determine whether she had miscarried or whether she had deliberately killed her baby with an attempted abortion.  

Evelyn denied knowing that she was pregnant since she had no symptoms and experiencing normal menstruation.  She also claimed to have been repeatedly raped by gang members.   Despite the lack of conclusive evidence, prosecutors insisted that she had attempted an abortion to hide her pregnancy.  Since the baby was nearly full-term at eight months, she was later convicted of aggravated homicide due to forensic evidence that the baby had been alive at birth.    According to a press statement on the case:   " At the Public Hearing in the Sentencing Court of Cojutepeque, it was established with sufficient expert, documentary and testimonial evidence, that the accused acted with [premeditation], against the life of her child, because even after being admitted to “Nuestra Señora de Fátima” Hospital in Cojutepeque with haemorrhaging, on the sixth of April in the year two thousand and sixteen, and having been diagnosed as having had a home vaginal birth, she denied having been pregnant." 

This sentence has divided El Salvador and intensified debate about the country's abortion laws.   And Evelyn is far from the first case of this kind.  According to the Citizens’ Group for the Decriminalization of Therapeutic, Ethical and Eugenic Abortion, 129 women have been tried for abortion or aggravated homicide, and 49 were convicted.   Under current law, abortion is strictly illegal, even in cases where the mother's health is at risk.  Not only have illegal abortions become more common, especially for women who cannot afford to travel to other countries, but women who miscarry or have stillbirths are often accused of homicide as well. 

In Evelyn's case, critics object that the available evidence is inconclusive as to whether the baby was dead or alive at birth.  Though her mother is preparing an appeal, international media has broadly denounced the verdict and a Twitter campaign, #JusticeForEvelyn , has been launched to try reversing the court's verdict.  Led by Salvadoran activist groups, the campaign condemns the court for ignoring Evelyn's rapists (who remain unprosecuted) while continuing to punish women who are usually too poor to get proper prenatal care or access to birth control.  

As for the lack of action in pursuing Evelyn's rape claim, this is hardly uncommon in El Salvador which has one of the highest rates of femicide in the world.  Most cases of domestic violence, rape, and murder of women go unreported and only one percent of cases that are reported result in a successful conviction.

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