A ten-year-old rape victim was denied an abortion by an Indian court on Tuesday. The district court in the northern state of Chandigarh ruled that the child must carry her pregnancy to term after determining that she was six months pregnant.
The Times of India reports that the girl became pregnant after her maternal uncle allegedly raped her multiple times. The child, who is reportedly 26 weeks pregnant, has not been identified.
Abortions are legal up to 20 weeks under Indian law, though exceptions can be made beyond that if the fetus is not viable or if the pregnancy poses a threat to the mother's life.
A team of eight doctors from the Government Medical College and Hospital in Chandigarh, including pediatricians and psychiatrists, examined the girl as part of the court process. "We evaluated the girl very critically and recommended a natural delivery because the fetus is viable and can survive even if delivered now," a senior member of the committee told CBS on condition of anonymity.
But other doctors have pointed out that there may be complications arising from a child attempting to deliver a fetus—not to mention the devastating psychological effects experienced by anyone forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. The World Health Organization states that complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the second highest cause of death for adolescent girls all over the world.
"In almost 40 years of practice, I have never come across such a case. I had seen a 13-year-old girl pregnant. If legal permission is granted treating it as an exceptional case, it's better to terminate the pregnancy as there can be complications," Dr Umesh Jindal, a gynecologist and a member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, told the Times of India.
According to the Indian Express, the girl's parents realized she was pregnant after she complained of stomach pains and was taken to a doctor. Her uncle, who allegedly raped her six to seven times when he visited the family home, has since been arrested.
Government statistics show that there were over 34,000 reports of rape in India in 2015. In 95.5 percent of cases, the victim knew their attacker, and almost one in ten rapes were committed by immediate family members or relatives.
"We still have a long way to go [centering the needs of] survivors and being able to support them in the way that they need us to," Human Rights Watch spokesperson Jayshree Bajoria told Broadly. "You often see there is still apathy in how police or even health professionals or even trial courts deal with rape survivors in India. There is a need for better training to ensure that rape survivors can access the criminal justice system without feeling further re-traumatized."
While India has toughened its laws on rape and child sexual abuse, she says that survivors must be able to access necessary health care and counseling. "While health professionals do look at forensic evidence when they treat rape survivors, the therapeutic [side] and counseling is often missing completely," she said.
"In a case like this, that becomes even more necessary," she added. "It is very important that the girl is able to access medical services that she requires and that there is follow up—that her body is not just seen as a site of evidence for justice, but she is given the help and the counseling that she requires."