A teenage rape victim in El Salvador has been sentenced to 30 years in prison after she suffered from what her lawyers said was a stillbirth.
Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez Cruz, 19, from a small rural community in Cuscatlan, eastern El Salvador, was convicted of "aggravated homicide" on Wednesday.
Hernandez said she did not know she was pregnant when she experienced severe abdominal pain and fainted in her bathroom in April 2016, Al Jazeera reported. She was allegedly raped by a gang member repeatedly over several months as part of a forced sexual relationship before going into labor.
Medical experts were unable to ascertain whether the fetus died in utero or in the moments after delivery.
The female judge accepted the prosecutor’s claims that Hernandez failed to seek antenatal care because she did not want the baby, and allegedly threw him into the toilet intending to kill him.
One of the teen’s lawyers argued that his client failed to seek medical help because she didn’t even know she was pregnant.
Morena Herrera, executive director of the Citizens’ Group for the Decriminalisation of Abortion, CDFA, said the verdict was based on prejudices held by the prosecutor and judge.
“The judgment sentencing Evelyn to 30 years in prison shows how in El Salvador justice is applied without direct proof, without sufficient evidence that clarifies what a woman has done,” she said.
“In this case, Evelyn did not kill her newborn child. She simply experienced an obstetric emergency and the state prosecutor has badly interpreted the facts and unfortunately the judge hasn’t listened to the witnesses that told her there was no direct proof.”
Cruz's attorneys will appeal the verdict and a protest against the court's decision is expected on Saturday.
El Salvador is one of five countries where abortion is illegal in all circumstances. The country's abortion law was implemented in 1998 after a shadowy campaign by a small group of powerful anti-choice groups linked to the Catholic church.
According to CDFA, 129 women were convicted of abortion-related crimes between 2000 and 2011 in El Salvador. As of 2015, at least 26 women were facing charges of murder.
“El Salvador’s anti-abortion law is causing nothing but pain and suffering to countless women and girls and their families. It goes against human rights and it has no place in the country or anywhere,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
Earlier this year, El Salvador introduced a bill that would change the law to allow abortion in some circumstances, such as rape or when a woman's health was a risk.
But the proposed legislation remains in committee and there has been no decision as to whether it will be sent to the legislative assembly for a vote.
“The total ban on abortion in El Salvador violates women’s rights to life, health, privacy, due process and freedom from discrimination, violence and torture and other ill-treatment,” Guevara-Rosas said. “All women and girls imprisoned for having had an abortion or experiencing obstetric emergencies should be immediately and unconditionally released, and the law must be repealed without delay.”