Monday, December 17, 2018

El Salvador court frees woman on trial after bearing rapist's baby

Nina Lakhani
Mon 17 Dec 2018

A rape victim who was charged with attempted murder in El Salvador after giving birth to her abuser’s baby has been found not guilty and freed from jail.

Imelda Cortez, 20, has been in custody since April 2017 after giving birth in a latrine to a baby girl fathered by her abusive stepfather.

She was facing 20 years in prison after prosecutors argued that failing to tell anyone about the pregnancy or seek medical attention for the baby amounted to attempted murder.

The decision to prosecute Cortez, who suffered years of sexual abuse, had prompted outrage around the world.

But on Monday morning, prosecutors reduced the charge from attempted murder to abandonment – and offence which carries a 12-month jail term.

Then, in a dramatic turn of events, the court declared Cortez not guilty of any crime, and ruled she was free to go home. Cortez always maintained her innocence, and that she did not know she was pregnant.


El Salvador is one of four countries where abortion is illegal in all circumstances, even if the woman is raped, her health or life is at risk, or if the foetus is seriously deformed.

Abortion was criminalised 21 years ago, after legislators from across the political spectrum voted to strip women of their reproductive rights without any public debate or medical consultation about the consequences.

The draconian ban has led to a string of miscarriages of justice in a conservative, machista culture that enables the persecution of women.

Most cases involve poor and single women from rural areas who are convicted on tenuous evidence after having a spontaneous obstetric gynaecological complication such as a miscarriage or stillbirth.


After she was charged with attempted murder, her stepfather visited her in hospital, threatening to kill her, her siblings and her mother if she reported the abuse. Another patient overheard and told a nurse, who called the police.

At first, prosecutors accused Cortez of inventing the abuse to justify her crime, until a DNA test confirmed the baby’s paternity. Her stepfather was eventually detained, but has not been charged with any crime.


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