India’s Supreme Court has ordered doctors to examine a pregnant 10-year-old rape victim whose parents want permission for her to abort her baby.
The child is reported to be 26 weeks pregnant and doctors say her body is not developed enough to carry a baby.
Indian law does not allow terminations after 20 weeks unless doctors confirm the mother’s life is in danger.
The girl alleges she was raped several times in the past seven months by her uncle, who has been arrested.
Her pregnancy was only recently discovered when her parents took her to hospital after she complained of stomach pain.
She will be examined on Wednesday by Chandigarh’s Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research. Its doctors will advise the Supreme Court on how much risk to her life she faces by either carrying the baby to term or having an abortion.
Last week, a district court in the northern city of Chandigarh in Punjab turned down her parents’ petition to allow the child to abort.
The tough law against abortion was introduced in 1971 to prevent illegal and unsafe abortions and curb maternal mortality, and the restrictions remain an important weapon in India’s fight against a skewed gender ratio which has resulted from a deep-seated cultural preference for sons. Millions of female foetuses have been aborted over the years by pregnant women after undergoing foetal gender testing.
But in recent years, Indian courts have been inundated with petitions, many from child rape survivors, wanting to terminate pregnancies after 20 weeks, the BBC’s Geeta Pandey in Delhi says.
In most such cases, the pregnancy is not even discovered until after the 20-week period is over because the children are themselves unaware of their condition, our correspondent adds.
In May, a court in Haryana state asked medical experts to take a call on a similar plea and a panel of doctors decided to carry out the termination.
In the latest case, doctors who have already examined the girl found her pelvic bones had not fully developed because of her age and said the life of both mother and baby were at “very serious risk”, lawyer Alakh Alok Srivastava says in his petition.
“Medical experts have categorically opined that if the 10-year-old is forced to give birth, either through normal delivery or even through caesarean-section, it may be fatal to the life of the rape survivor as well as to her child,” the petition says.
In his public interest petition, he has also asked the Supreme Court to issue guidelines to deal with such cases in future, by ordering the authorities to set up teams of experts in every district to take quick decisions in cases involving child rape survivors.
Indian media reports say a psychiatrist, who was part of the team of doctors who met the girl, has said that “she doesn’t understand that she is pregnant or the implications of being pregnant”.
The girl belongs to an extremely poor family, her father is a government employee and mother works as a domestic help.
Medical experts say girls can start menstruating and ovulating at nine, but their bodies are not mature enough for pregnancy at that age.
India is home to the largest number of sexually abused children globally, with some campaigners saying it has reached epidemic proportions. But there’s a general reluctance to talk about the problem and it’s rarely discussed in public.
Studies have shown that in large numbers of cases the abusers are known to the children and include care-givers like parents, relatives and teachers.
The scale of abuse in India
- A child under 16 is raped every 155 minutes, a child under 10 every 13 hours
- More than 10,000 children were raped in 2015
- 240 million women living in India were married before they turned 18
- 53.22% of children who participated in a government study reported some form of sexual abuse
- 50% of abusers are known to the child or are “persons in trust and care-givers”