It is seven o’clock in the morning in a women’s prison in Ilopango on the outskirts of the capital, San Salvador. Over the wooded mountains, the sun comes up. Hundreds of visitors stand in front of the prison, some since midnight. We are openings through a security gate, where guards inspect us, even the body and the spaces between the toes. In the courtyard there are two white plastic chairs under a mango tree. A guard in a grey Uniform takes a narrow woman from the tract for a murderer inside there.

Alba Lorena Rodríguez Santos, 30 years, wears it tied back her long hair and a shirt with the Logo of the prison program “Yo cambio” – I can change. She is one of 25 women in prison who were sentenced because of abortion. Rodriguez has two daughters and is illiterate.

How nice that I get to visit.

nobody is visiting it?

Rare. Amnesty International and my lawyer were here. And a couple of ambassadors, including the German.

What did he say?

He was dismayed that we are in prison here because of alleged abortion. He wants to fight for our liberation.

I’ll ask him then.

Please do.

Since when are you here?

Since Christmas eve 2009.

How many years you have in front of you?

21. Until Christmas Eve, 2039. I’ve got 30 years.

as much as a mass murderer.

Even more. I was convicted of murder in a particularly serious case. This is the same category as murder after a rape. Or murder after an abduction.


This doctor is one of only five in the country that perform abortions. The law also provides for doctors who help women, high prison sentences before

©Nadia Shira Cohen/the star

In the court documents related to your case 220-1-2010 it means you have committed a treacherous murder of her newborn.

I lost my Baby in a miscarriage. It was not an abortion. Certainly not murder.

What happened?

I was five months pregnant and at home in my cabin in Agua Escondida, not far from here. Sudden severe pain in the abdomen. I lost my consciousness. My Baby came early to the world.

The to help called police said the fetus had violence traces on the head. Also the autopsy A-09-974 indicates injury to the skull.

Possibly as a result of the fall, as I was unconscious. I remember nothing. It was a miscarriage. I was very weak and had barely eaten. My mother had died three weeks earlier. I was very depressed.

The hospital report with the number 40945-09 points indeed to the fact that they had a “complicated birth”. Why do you think, were you convicted yet?

When cases of this kind to land on the table of the judge – possible abortion – you decide against the women. Are you afraid of. The Power of the churches and an opponent of abortion in El Salvador is great.

The judge referred in her judgment to the fact, and I quote, “that the defendants hid the pregnancy”. The below position: they wanted to get rid of your child.

Why did I wait until the fifth month? I would want to have an abortion, I would have done the same to the beginning. That’s what I said in court.

your own mother-in-law, Gloria Elvira Rivas de Miranda, in whose house they lived in at the time, said in court that they knew nothing of the pregnancy.

That’s right. But you know the reason. You can ask for it.

her husband, she said nothing, lives as a Migrant in the United States, and money sent.

That’s right. Even my daughters knew nothing about. At the time they were three and six. They now live at my mother-in-law. I haven’t seen her in eight years.


believers pray to the virgin Mary. The Catholic Church and evangelicals dominate the social life in the country. The absolute ban on abortion from the year of 1998, is approved

©Nadia Shira Cohen/the star

Alba is crying now. She cries often during the conversation. You want to take in the Arm, but any skin contact is prohibited. A guard watching over it.

I didn’t want to be pregnant, this is true. And I didn’t want to say something. I was compelled by the leaders of the Mara, the street gang MS-13.

To the pregnancy forced?

To have Sex. The gang members say: “Sex or we kill your children and parents.” This is us in the colonias, poor neighborhoods, quite normal.

The Maras are more likely to be known to ensure that you do not kill, if you pay protection money.

you do not kill for everything: If you give your kids in the Gang. If you Sex refuse. So I was pregnant. But my Baby I wanted to unsubscribe. There is anyway no possibility to have an abortion here.

The strict prohibition also applies to rape, as in your case.

For everything. Without Exception. Sexual Abuse. Rape. Incest. Even if the mother is threatened in a high-risk pregnancy of death.

Why have not you mentioned her rape in court? Maybe there had been extenuating circumstances.

Out of fear. The Maras kill your family if you testify against you.

But you say it to me now.

It is the truth.

I have To write this really so?

Please write the.

How many women are imprisoned here because of abortion?

About 25. At the beginning we were 17. We were called “Las 17”. Just Evelyn came to be. She is 19 and also received 30 years. Also, she was forced by a Gang to have Sex and had a stillbirth.

Foundation star donations for the imprisoned women in El Salvador

you can support the women in prison. We will forward your help: IBAN DE20 2007 0000 0469 9500 00

BIC DEUTDEHH – keyword “El Salvador”;

The case has made headlines around the world. Especially because Evelyn Hernandez is so young.

we get in here. There is no TV.

nothing at all? Have you heard for example of the #MeToo movement? Women denounce sexual Assault.

no. This is definitely important, but for us, it comes to rape and sexual slavery.

Why, do you think, is the abortion law in El Salvador so strictly?

We are a country where the Church still has the Say. And Politicians. Men. You would have to ask.

I have spoken with politicians of the right-wing government party, Arena, which, in 1998, the rigid abortionprohibition and the Constitution writing. Some want to increase the penalty for abortions, even in 50 years.

Then I would be about 70. Then we die in here. The Absurd is this: I am against abortion. I would not have an abortion. I’m a believer. But there are situations in which women should have the right to. As in the case of Mayra.


she sits there in the front. Mayra housekeeper. She was forced by the nephew of her Boss to have Sex. Or Teodora. She lost her child after a Robbery in the Bus, and sits around for eleven years. Or Salvadora. This is the quite Thin there on the wall. She was forced by the leader of a Gang only to have Sex and then abort.

This is shocking.

you Know what is almost more disturbing? Salvadora considers himself guilty. She says she murdered the child by abortion. The prison was now God’s just punishment.


A mother provides her Newborn in the National women’s Hospital in San Salvador. Doctors in public hospitals to women with miscarriages to report

©Nadia Shira Cohen/the star

has reached The strict law, but nothing. On The Contrary. Desperate women secretly. You endanger your life.

I know women that they beat the did by in your belly. Some go to healers and medicine men and drink a root brew. But this is dangerous. And Doctors are not allowed to help you.

I have spoken to a doctor who helps women. He is part of a network of only five physicians in the country, the abortions illegally.

How does he do it?

He receives the abortion medicine by an organization from the Netherlands.

And if the police caught him?

five to eight years in prison Threaten him.

See you. There are Doctors who do not want to ill treat Pregnant even if you only have a flu. So it was with me. Are you afraid to be in the case of a miscarriage because of aid to murder accused.

What gives you hope?

I’ll be out early. Like Maria Teresa, you exile suddenly received in Sweden. And that the government, the law changes as a result of international pressure. Especially that I see my daughters again.

you crying again. Your words will now move into a Stammer.

We are not killers, you have to believe us, we are normal mothers. We have lost our babies, which is bad enough. Now we do not see our children, not to endure.

How old are your daughters?

14 and 11. Juana and Lizzeth. When I came to prison, they were still small.

Why not visit the two in jail?

Once they arrived. But you have no money for the paperwork. And I don’t want you to see their mother in prison. You must think that I’m actually a murderer.

What do you think instead?

I don’t know it. You ask the two of them. I feel so bad. I can’t be a mother. I can’t protect you from the Gangs. I can earn there is no money to help them financially. They are very poor.


Alba’s daughters, Lizzeth, 11, (left) and Juana, 14, (right) with grandmother Gloria Elvira Rivas de Miranda, the need to care for the children. The father lives in the U.S.

©Jan Christoph Wiechmann

The visit time is running out. Alba Rodríguez is discharged. She disappears behind an iron gate.

change of scene. Aqua Escondida. A poor neighborhood on the other end of the capital. A hut made of mud. The roof is made of sheet metal. The floor is made of cement. Two Of The Rooms. Alba’s mother-in-law, Gloria Elvira Rivas de Miranda is a small, sinewy woman, 58 years. Their grandchildren are wearing Juana and Lizzeth colorful skirts and blouses. On the wall a few family photos.

Is your father on the photos?

Lizzeth: Yes. He is in America. He has a new wife. But he sends money.

Rivas: 75 dollars a month. Of which we live.

Juana: I have a different father. He was murdered by the Gangs.

I don’t see a photo of your mother.

Lizzeth: From Alba? I don’t have one.

Juana: I have one in my phone.

you don’t call mom?

Lizzeth: I call my grandma’s here, mom.


Lizzeth: I haven’t seen my real mother in a long time.

don’t you Miss them?

Lizzeth: Yes, but life goes on. She’ll be out in 20 years.

Juana: I miss you.

I have visited your mother. She misses you very much.

Juana: We can’t call you. Only you can do that. But she has no money for it.

Rivas: I’ll send you something if I can, but I myself have nothing. I sell fruit.

According to the documents of the court life of 0.89 dollars a day.

Rivas: It’s enough for rice and beans and a chicken.

What do you say to the children about the fate of their mother?

Rivas: The children know. You ask quietly.

What do you know?

Juana: The say neighbours, our mother has killed her Baby, our brother. I don’t think.

Lizzeth: I don’t either. I think it died in her belly.

What says Friends your?

Juana: our mom works somewhere else.

Lizzeth: she is in America.

Juana: Of America you better not say anything, otherwise, the Mara’s want money from us.

What are you, Mrs. Rivas believe? You have said in court as a witness against her own daughter-in-law.

I don’t know the truth. Alba was pregnant – not from my son. She had a birth. The Baby was dead. The neighbours told the police that you have slain.

Alba says she was raped. And it was not an abortion but a miscarriage.

Rivas: can it be. It was after the death of her mother, very thin. Very weak. She ate nothing.

There is a lot of injustice in Latin America, but such I have seldom come across: A woman is raped, has a miscarriage and has to 30 years in prison.

Rivas: I’m against abortion. We are a believer. We go to Church every day.

it would also be in the case of a rape?

Rivas: God loves every living thing. The Baby is not to blame. You can it happened to love – no matter what before. The majority in El Salvador thinks so.

There are efforts to change the draconian law. Also, the pressure from abroad is growing.

Rivas: This will not work. The people are against abortion.

Why visit the children Mother?

Rivas: It is too expensive. You have to apply for papers. You have to go. It costs $ 20. I don’t have. If the Maras know that I have money, blackmail me.

The Mara is also the Poorest of the poor blackmail?

Rivas: you blackmail everyone. Here in the district of the Letras reign.

The Letras – letters – is the street gang MS-13.

Rivas: The other rule right next door. The Números. Behind the house is the border. We are not allowed to enter their territory.

The Números – Numbers is the Gang Barrio 18. You have to take the real name is not in the mouth?

Rivas: no. In any case.

How to show the Maras of their Power?

Rivas: Anyone who has a business, has to pay protection money. The boys in the district, commands you, join the Gang. The girl to have relations with them.

How to protect your grandchildren?

Rivas: I will try to keep you in the house.

What do you say to the two?

Rivas: you know. You need to know the dangers. Once you are a little older, I want to send you to your father in the USA. He lives in North Carolina.

This is a dangerous escape.

Rivas: more Dangerous than here, it may not be.

The US no longer recognizes rape and escape from Gangs as grounds for Asylum since June.

You have to try it anyway.

White Alba from the plans?

Rivas: you Tell her calmly.

Juana: you Tell her that I miss her.

Lizzeth: I also.

I hope you can do it your self to tell. We pay for the travel and fees.

Four months later. The Prison In Ilopango. A cooler Morning. Drizzle. Prisoners everywhere in the yard. According to a study by the Institute for law FESPASD the Overcrowding of the prison is located at 968 per cent. Alba Rodríguez is wearing worn Jeans and a thin shirt. She freezes, greeted us cheerfully.

Good news. Our leader Teodora is released early from prison. I hope that I will be the Next am.

your lawyer told us, the chances for the next year were quite good.

she was here Recently. She believes the government is feeling the pressure. From all over the world, women are for us. Have you spoken with the German Ambassador?

Yes. He says he will work with the other ambassadors for their release and that of the other. For an Ambassador, he is unusually offensive.

I must be free. I must. I have seen my children. It was wonderful. We had a half a day. I hardly recognized them.

What have you done?

Us all the time hugging. I have to be there for you. You are now in the age where you have girls in El Salvador, particularly to protect. What is troubling me know? The government is doing everything possible for the protection of unborn life. But nothing for the protection of the living children.

Who are the women over there staring at us like that?

Maras. Female members of the Gang MS-13. They are killer on the inside. They even boast. But we call them Mata Ninos, a child murderer on the inside. In the hierarchy of the occupants, we are at the very bottom.

What does that mean exactly?

they force us to wash your Laundry, to sew and to work for you. To wash your hair. Even your feet.

What happens when you do it?

Then report it to their gangs out there and threatening our family members to kill.

This is a slave system.

We have no choice.

How do the guards react?

it is no matter. In case of doubt, they can be bribed and are in accordance with the instructions of the Gangs. Like outside the police.

How do you protect yourself?

We, the women of “Las 17” are trying, constantly stay together, to sleep in a tract, so that none is isolated from us. If the threat is particularly bad, I act badly on purpose. I’ll be back in the “Isla”, the solitary confinement. It’s not nice, but better than to be victims of the Maras. If this conversation is over, you will interrogate me.

Foundation star donations for the imprisoned women in El Salvador

you can support the women in prison. We will forward your help: IBAN DE20 2007 0000 0469 9500 00

BIC DEUTDEHH – keyword “El Salvador”;

What does this mean?

you think I get money from you. Should I pay something to you. But I got nothing. So I need to work off the debt.

So my visit is counterproductive?

no, we need the attention. We hope to print, so we all soon be free.

what is your everyday life in jail otherwise?

There is the program “Yo cambio” – I can change. We manufacture bags and chains and working in the Laundry. I have learned to read and write.

your daughters want to flee to the United States.

you told me during the visit, you want to wait for me. But if I don’t get out, to flee.

It may be that you see your daughters then never.

you are in safety. Here you have no future. Maybe I’ll catch up someday.


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