Paraguay Denies Abortion to Pregnant 10-Year-Old Rape Victim

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Paraguayan authorities have refused to allow a 10-year-old girl who was raped and impregnated by her stepfather to have an abortion. In Paraguay, abortion is outlawed in all cases except when the mother’s life is endangered.

The girl, whose name has been withheld, began experiencing stomach pains in April. Her mother feared she may have a tumor and took her to a hospital, where she was examined and revealed to be 21 weeks pregnant. The girl’s mother requested that the child be given an abortion, but the request was denied by Paraguayan health authorities, who have asserted that her life is not being endangered by the pregnancy.

The girl’s mother has now been arrested, with the reason being variously reported as because she failed her responsibilities toward the child by allowing her to be abused, or because she helped the stepfather, who is at large, to escape capture. The mother first reported the abuse to authorities in Jan. 2014, but no action was taken at the time.

Amnesty International has denounced the Paraguayan administration for its decision, and its local office has begun a social media campaign using the hashtag “#NinaEnPeligro” (Girl in Danger) to spread awareness of the issue.

In a statement, Amnesty said “Failure by the Paraguayan authorities to provide a safe abortion to a 10-year-old rape survivor could have devastating consequences on her health and will heap injustice on tragedy.” Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty’s Americas Deputy Director, added that “the physical and psychological impact of forcing this young girl to continue with an un-wanted pregnancy is tantamount to torture.” The United Nations Committee against Torture has stated that “restrictions on access to abortion and… absolute bans on abortion” violate international prohibitions against torture and ill-treatment.

The US-based Center for Reproductive Rights joined Amnesty in protesting the decision, with the group’s Director for Latin America and the Caribbean condemning the county’s abortion laws for being “draconian.”

Defending the country’s position, Paraguayan health officials stated that because the girl was over 20 weeks pregnant, it would be dangerous for her to have an abortion at such a late stage. Paraguay’s Health Minister Antonio Barrios, who is also a pediatrician, said that “there are no indications that the girl’s health is at risk [from delivering the baby]… we are not, from any point of view, in favor of terminating a pregnancy.” Barrios also stated that 14 girls between nine and 14 years of age had given birth at Paraguay’s Clinical Hospital (known as the “hospital of the poor”) in 2014, “and they all came out fine.”

The Catholic Church in Paraguay has entered the debate, agreeing with authorities that an abortion should not be granted because “human life is sacred and begins at the moment of conception,” according to the Reuters news agency.

According to the United Nations Population Fund, two million girls under the age of 15 give birth each year in developing countries. The World Health Organization has stated that “adolescent girls who give birth… have a much higher risk of dying from maternal causes compared to women in their 20s and 30s,” with the risk increasing “as maternal age decreases.”

Sources:

Agence France-Presse, “Paraguay Child Pregnancy: Girl, 10, Impregnated by Stepfather and Denied Abortion,” abc.net.au, May 7, 2015

Amnesty International, “Paraguay: Raped 10-Year-Old Must Be Allowed an Abortion,” amnesty.org, Apr. 29, 2015

Jason Hanna and Rafael Romo, “Group Presses Paraguay to Allow Abortion for Raped Girl, 10,” cnn.com, May 4, 2015

Anastasia Moloney, “Pregnant 10-Year-Old Rape Victim Denied Abortion in Paraguay,” reuters.com, May 5, 2015

Irma Oviedo and Jonathan Watts, “Pregnant 10-Year-Old Rape Victim Denied Abortion by Paraguayan Authorities,” theguardian.com, May 4, 2015

United Nations General Assembly: Human Rights Council, “Report of the Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Juan E. Méndez,” ohchr.org, Feb. 1, 2013

United Nations Population Fund, “Motherhood in Childhood: Facing the Challenge of Adolescent Pregnancy,” unfpa.org, 2013

Jessica Valenti, “To Make a 10-Year-Old Give Birth Isn’t Just Horrifying – It’s Life Threatening,” theguardian.com, May 5, 2015

World Health Organization, “MPS Notes: Adolescent Pregnancy,” who.int, Oct. 2008