Zika virus infection in Brazil and human rights obligations

January 13, 2017

Many thanks to the authors of this useful new article in the Ethical and Legal Issues section of the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics.  Debora Diniz and Sinara Gumieri are affiliated with the Anis Institute of Bioethics, Human Rights and Gender, Beatriz Galli is Senior Policy Advisor at Ipas Brazil, and Rebecca Cook and Bernard Dickens are professors emeriti at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law.

The February 2016, the WHO declaration that congenital Zika virus syndrome constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern reacted to the outbreak of the syndrome in Brazil. Public health emergencies can justify a spectrum of human rights responses, but in Brazil, the emergency exposed prevailing inequities in the national healthcare system. The government’s urging to contain the syndrome, which is associated with microcephaly among newborns, is confounded by lack of reproductive health services. Women with low incomes in particular have little access to such health services. The emergency also illuminates the harm of restrictive abortion legislation, and the potential violation of human rights regarding women’s health and under the UN Conventions on the Rights of the Child and on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Suggestions have been proposed by which the government can remedy the widespread healthcare inequities among the national population that are instructive for other countries where congenital Zika virus syndrome is prevalent.

Free access to PDF for 12 months.
Typescript online.

Related Resources:
“The Zika Virus and Brazilian Women’s Right to Choose,” op/ed by Debora Diniz, February 8, 2016.  New York Times.
“Zika: More than a health issue (Dec 1, 2016)  53-minute  TV interview with English subtitles.
“Zika” documentary  30 minutes, April 2016, with English subtitles;
“Zika emergency pushes women to challenge Brazilian abortion law”  Guardian news report.
Zika: Do Sertão nordestino à ameaça global  by  Debora Diniz  (Rio de Janeiro:  Civilização Brasileira, 2016).  Portuguese: Livro o Livro electronicaSinopseA história contada.
Zika: from the Brazilian backlands to Global Threat (London: Zed Books, 2017), analyses scientific discoveries regarding Zika in Brazil,  and the impact of the epidemic on poor black and brown women’s lives.  Publisher’s abstract.

Compiled by the Coordinator of the International Reproductive and Sexual Health Law Program, reprohealth*law at utoronto.ca.   For Program publications and resources, see our website, online here.     TO JOIN THIS BLOG: enter your email address in upper right corner of this webpage, then check your email to confirm the subscription.

South Africa: customary marriage cannot justify rape

March 10, 2016

Many thanks to Godfrey Kangaude, LL.M. (UFS), LL.M. (UCLA), Executive Director of the Malawi Law Society and Co-Director of Nyale Institute for Sexual and Reproductive Health Governance, for writing a new African case summary for the forthcoming publication, Legal Grounds III: Reproductive and Sexual Rights in Sub-Saharan African Courts:

Nvumeleni Jezile v The State, High Court Case No: A 127/2014 (High Court of South Africa)  Decision online.   Full Case summary.

The appellant in this case had negotiated a customary marriage with the relatives of a 14-year-old girl prior to forcibly abducting, marrying, raping, and assaulting her.   At trial, the appellant had already been convicted of human trafficking, rape and common assault, and assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and was serving sentence. 

The issue on appeal relevant to this analysis was whether the trial court’s determination of the issues should have taken into account the practice of customary marriage or ukuthwala, which allows the bride to be coerced.

The High Court held that the practice of ukuthwala on which the appellant relied for his defence is not customary marriage itself.  Rather, it is one of the processes leading to negotiations for a customary marriage.

Further, the appellant relied on an aberrant form of ukuthwala to justify coercion. The consensus amongst the experts on customary marriage and law was that the true form of ukuthwala requires consent of the woman.

Practices associated with the aberrant form of ukuthwala do not comply with the requirements of the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act 120 of 1998 (RCMA), and cannot be protected.  Section 3(1) of the RCMA requires: (a) prospective spouses should be over the age of 18 years, (b) both must consent to the customary marriage, and (c) the process must be in accordance with customary law. Sections 3(3)(a) and 3(4)(a) provide for conditions under which a person below the age of 18 can enter into customary marriage with the consent of parents or guardians.

Full case summary by Godfrey Kangaude is online here.

Legal Grounds: Reproductive and Sexual Rights in African Commonwealth Courts   (2000 to 2008) Volumes I and II can be downloaded here.  Our update will be published early in 2017:  Decisions already identified for inclusion  are online here.  New case summaries are attached every month.   If you can suggest other cases, please do!   How You Can Help.


Enhancing the Role of Health Professionals for Adolescent Sexual Health and Rights in Africa

January 14, 2016

Congratulations to Godfrey Kangaude, LL.M. (UFS), LL.M. (UCLA), Executive Director of the Malawi Law Society and Co-Director of Nyale Institute for Sexual and Reproductive Health Governance, whose recently published article is now available online:

Godfrey Kangaude, “Enhancing the Role of Health Professionals in the Advancement Of Adolescent Sexual Health and Rights in Africa” (2016). International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics 132 (2016) 105–108.  online here.

Abstract:      To realize adolescents’ right to sexual health, state parties’ implementation of the obligations stipulated under Article 14 of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa should reflect the key principles of the rights of the child, articulated under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Welfare and Rights of the Child. However, societal norms that stigmatize adolescent sexual conduct constitute barriers to adolescents’ sexual health care, including their access to contraceptives to avoid unwanted pregnancies and protect themselves from sexually-transmitted infections and HIV. States should sensitize and train health professionals to provide sexual health services and care in accordance with the principles of the rights of the child, and create enabling laws and policies to facilitate their work with adolescents.

The full text of this article is online here.

For “Recommended Reading” about adolescent reproductive and sexual health law, with abstracts, see our updated information resources on Adolescents, online here.

More IJGO articles on Ethical and Legal Issues in Reproductive Health are online here.