NEW DELHI - In India, the Supreme Court has turned down a request for a 10-year-old rape survivor to undergo an abortion after doctors advised that terminating the pregnancy would be too risky for her.
The girl comes from a poor family and once lived in a one-room house in the northern city of Chandigarh. The girl said she was raped several times by her uncle, who has since been arrested. Her parents were not aware of her pregnancy until two weeks ago when she complained of stomach pains. She is now 32 weeks pregnant.
Supreme Court judges said they are basing their decision on the assessment of doctors who concluded after a medical examination that an abortion would not be safe either for the girl or the fetus. The court ordered that proper medical care be provided to her.
Her parents' plea landed at the Supreme Court after the High Court in Chandigarh turned down their request for an abortion nearly two weeks ago, also on the grounds that it was not safe for the young girl.
Indian law forbids termination of pregnancy after 20 weeks, but in unusual cases, the courts have considered requests for an abortion even at later stages.
Case highlights widespread child sex abuse
The girl’s plight has turned the focus on the widespread problem of child sex abuse in the country. While the issue of sexual violence against women has come under the spotlight in recent years, the most vulnerable victims – young children – have received much less attention.
It is the second time this year that Indian courts are hearing a plea on behalf of a young girl who became pregnant after being raped by a family member and was not aware of her condition.
That girl, who was also 10 years old, was allowed to undergo an abortion – she was 21 weeks along when her mother learned of the pregnancy in May. The young girl said her stepfather had repeatedly raped her.
Announcing the decision about the latest victim, the Supreme Court suggested that the government set up a medical board in each state to take prompt decisions in such cases.
One in three rape victims in India is a minor, according to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. And in many cases, the abusers are known to the victim and include caregivers such as relatives and teachers.
Campaigners say that in a conservative society, families and communities most often prefer to turn a blind eye to the crime rather than report it. They say the problem cuts across economic groups.
The scale of the problem prompted World Vision India, along with civil society groups, to launch a campaign in May to raise awareness among five million children, parents and communities across 200 districts about the problem of child sex abuse and how to address it.