At least 1,000 girls aged 14 or younger gave birth in Paraguay between 2019 and 2020

An epidemic of childhood pregnancy in Paraguay is being fueled by widespread sexual abuse and restrictive abortion laws, according to a new Amnesty International report.

At least 1,000 girls aged 14 or younger gave birth in the country between 2019 and 2020, the report says. It adds that more than 12,000 teenage girls between the ages of 15 and 19 gave birth in 2019.

The report, titled "They are girls, not mothers," highlights a crisis of sexual violence against children, who are then forced to carry resulting pregnancies to term under Paraguayan law.

The South American nation's abortion laws are some of the most extreme in the region, with the procedure criminalized in almost every circumstance, except when the life of the mother is recognized to be in danger.

Paraguay has one of the highest child and teenage pregnancy rates in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

Early childbirth can pose significant health risks. Girls under the age of 15 are four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications, according to the Latin American Consortium against Unsafe Abortion.

In Paraguay, girls and teenagers between the ages of 10 and 19 account for one in ten maternal deaths nationwide, as well as 13% of maternal deaths caused by unsafe abortions, according to Amnesty.

Paraguay adopted a law in 2018 to prevent sexual abuse and guarantee comprehensive care for child and teenage survivors of sexual abuse. However, the report describes the law's implementation as insufficient, highlighting holes in the protection of young people, "such as the absence of appropriate public policies and the failure to enforce existing laws to prevent abuse and provide redress when it does occur."

Abortion rights activists demonstrate in Asuncion, Paraguay in 2018.

"By action and omission, Paraguay is turning its back on its girls and teenagers as they face unimaginable abuses," Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International said.

"Girls have the right to a life free of violence. Forcing someone to continue with a pregnancy, particularly when it is the result of rape, is a form of ill-treatment that can be considered torture," she added.

In 2019 alone, the country's Public Prosecutor's Office received an average of 12 reports of sexual violence against children and teenagers every day, which in some cases resulted in pregnancy, according to the report.

Paraguay's restrictive stance on abortion has drawn international attention before. In 2015, an 11-year-old gave birth after Paraguayan authorities denied her an abortion. The girl had become pregnant by her stepfather at the 10.