A tragedy that isn’t talked about

Lives silenced, a tragedy that isn’t talked about, is a study from the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO), that exposes the link between suicide and pregnancy in adolescent women.  It was presented for the first time in August 2019, and in 2021 the second edition was produced.

Esperanza was a 16-year-old adolescent, living in a home with many precarious conditions.  But that didn’t stop her from looking forward to high school graduation.  The graduation came, but she wasn’t there.  She ingested phostoxin (a fumigant to control pests in stored grains) and she committed suicide when she was eight months pregnant.  It’s assumed that the stepfather raped her and is the father of her daughter.  The girl survived, has brain damage, no speech, and limited motor development.

Esperanza’s suicide isn’t unique.  Flor was 15 years old when she hung herself with a noose from a beam in the room where she lived with her parents.  She was seven months pregnant, and wasn’t noticed.  People around her didn’t know who the baby’s father was.  They remember that she liked a gym teacher that no longer works at the school.  The fifteen-year-old was studying third grade elementary and wanted to be a teacher or a nurse.

Nadia was a third-grade student, a young q’eqchi’, surviving poverty and the consequences of sexual violence.  The brother-in-law, husband of her older sister, raped and impregnated her.  Nadia never told anyone what she’d suffered, until she decided to commit suicide.  The aggressor threatened to kill her sister.  Before she poisoned herself she went to a healer for an abortion, but she continued to feel bad and committed suicide.  Her case was denounced to the Public Ministry but the complaint was dismissed because “there is no crime to prosecute”.

Esperanza, Flor and Nadia were born in Guatemala.  Their stories are part of the study that exposes the relation between suicide and forced, unwanted, or unplanned pregnancy.  “Suicide is a tragedy that needs to be made known so that it leaves the private sphere and is recognized as a social problem”, the document states.

Suicide related to pregnancy occurs during gestation and up to a year after birth.  The study mentions that a pregnant adolescent has a risk of suicide up to 3 times highter than non-pregnant adolescents due to the exposure to violence, stigma, sexual violence, the lack of alternatives from the interference in their life dreams and the penalization of abortion.

Additionally, pregnancies from sexual violence interrupt a woman’s life hopes and dreams.  This provokes the presence of anxiety, depression, a sensation of being imprisoned.  Add to that the depression that generally accompanies these pregnancies negatively affects overall health and quality of life, limits the development of dreams, studies and work possibilities.  This is how a scenario of risk for the idea of suicide is generated. 

Emma López, member FLACSO’S Gender and Studies Program says that the problem has been silenced, as suicide can’t be talked about in all places due to the taboos surrounding it.  Of the 14 cases that are part of the study, eight reflect evidence of sexual violence.  “There’s no follow up to seek justice in these cases.  With the death, any possibility of evidence to prosecute dies”, explains Emma.

The study also shows that, although maternal death by suicide is recognized internationally, the Ministry of Health in Guatemala still hasn’t implemented a registry for these cases.

“Who’s talking about and investigating this?  What information is provided to university students in medicine, psychology and psychiatry?  Also, there are recommendations for the ministry of agriculture, because one of the most common ways of committing suicide among adolesents is poisoning, by using phostoxin, better known as the pill to cure corn.  How is this access regulated?  In the majority of cases the victims were active students, so the question for the Ministry of Education is, What is the response that could be given through comprehensive sex education? for example”, said Emma