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Rape victim, 19, jailed for 30 years for stillbirth in El Salvador

Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez Cruz was convicted of murder

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By Zoë Beaty on

Eighteen-year-old Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez Cruz was in her third trimester when she realised she was pregnant. Months earlier, she had been raped, repeatedly, by a gang member over several months; she had become the victim of a forced sexual relationship. In April 2016, after she began to feel unwell, with backache and intense stomach pain, Hernandez gave birth unexpectedly in a toilet. The baby didn’t survive. And, as a result, Hernandez was jailed for 30 years. 

The high-school student, who is now 19, was jailed in her home of El Salvador, under oppressive laws which allow women to be prosecuted for miscarrying a child. In this case, Hernandez was convicted on the grounds of failing to seek antenatal care when she fell ill. The judge in the case – also, incidentally, a woman – ruled with prosecutors, who said that she deliberately avoided seeking medical aid, because she didn’t want the baby. They said she threw the baby into the toilet with the intention of killing him, after medical experts are unable to ascertain whether the foetus died while still in the womb, or in the moments after the delivery. Lawmakers said that the case amounted to murder. 

She is a victim and a symbol of a legal framework which politicises and punishes women’s bodies to an extreme degree

And so Hernandez was jailed, for three decades. Her mother was also accused in sentencing of being criminally responsible for the stillbirth, following the judge’s declaration that Hernandez could not have worked alone (her mother took her to the hospital after the birth, where Hernandez was handcuffed to the bed for a week while suffering infection). The shocking sentence marks a dark day for women in El Salvador, and serves as an indictment of the control and oppression over women’s bodies that presides in the Central American country. 

Hernandez is the latest in a long line of injustices which have occurred in El Salvador, which is one of just five countries worldwide where abortion is illegal in all circumstances. There, women are imprisoned for suffering complications during pregnancy. Since the blanket ban 20 years ago – in which abortion was outlawed without even a public debate on the matter – to miscarry is to risk your freedom.

Lawyers have condemned Hernandez’s conviction and vowed to appeal. The many layers of injustice in her case – that she was a victim of rape, that she was systematically abused, before being medically vulnerable and then jailed – mean that there has already been global outcry. 

She is a victim and a symbol of a legal framework which politicises and punishes women’s bodies to an extreme degree. For Hernandez and the many other women jailed for losing babies, justice must feel far away.

@zoe_beaty

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