A court in India on Tuesday ordered a 10-year-old girl whose parents say she was raped and impregnated by her uncle to carry her foetus to term, ruling she is too young and her pregnancy too advanced to have an abortion.
The girl, who has not been identified, is six months’ pregnant and sought medical attention after her maternal uncle allegedly raped her several times, CBS News reported.
The district court in the northern city of Chandigarh based its decision on an opinion by a panel of doctors from the city’s Government Medical College and Hospital, where the girl was examined, according to the hospital’s medical superintendent.
“If you abort then the risk to life is greater,” the superintendent told the Washington Post in a brief phone interview Wednesday.
A 1970s law in India known as the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act bars abortions beyond 20 weeks, though courts have made exceptions if the foetus is not viable or if the mother’s life is at risk.
According to CBS, the hospital’s eight-member panel determined that the foetus was viable and could survive even if it was delivered immediately. CBS quoted an unnamed senior doctor on the panel who said abortion was “not an option at this stage”.
The hospital told the Times of India on Tuesday: “The victim is six months’ pregnant, as revealed by her ultrasound reports. We have submitted our medical advice to the court regarding termination of the foetus.”
The girl’s parents found out their daughter was pregnant after she complained of stomach pains, according to the Indian Express. She later reportedly told her mother that her uncle had raped her half a dozen times when he visited the family home.
The uncle was arrested and the parents petitioned the court for an abortion, the Indian Express reported.
Doctors say it’s biologically possible for a girl to become pregnant as soon as she begins ovulating, though rare for a 10-year-old. By and large, medical experts agree that carrying and delivering a baby at age 15 or younger can come with life-threatening complications, including anaemia, high blood pressure and haemorrhaging.
On top of that, pelvic bones do not fully develop until women reach their late teens. Before that point vaginal births and full-term pregnancies are dangerous, and even caesarean sections present significant risks, they say. Such problems, along with complications from unsafe abortions, were the top cause of death among female adolescents in 2015, according to the World Health Organisation.
Umesh Jandal, a gynaecologist from the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, said she has never encountered a pregnant patient as young as the girl in Chandigarh. Her youngest, she said, was 13.
“If legal permission is granted treating it as an exceptional case, it’s better to terminate the pregnancy,” Jandal told the Times of India.
Delhi-based gynaecologist Punnet Bide told the Indian news site The Quant that the psychological effects of giving birth at such a young age outweighed the risk of abortion.
“An abortion needs to be done immediately,” Bide said. “Yes, there are risks and abortion at this stage is tough, but for the girl who is still developing, the scars will be many.”
In a strikingly similar case this year, a court in the northern Indian state of Haryana permitted a 10-year-old girl who was 21 weeks’ pregnant to have an abortion, as the New York Times reported.
The girl’s mother called a women’s help line and reported that her daughter became pregnant after being repeatedly raped by her stepfather, described as a day labourer in his early 20s, according to the Times.
In 2015, Indian authorities allowed a 14-year-old rape victim to end her pregnancy at 25 weeks, as the Indian Express reported.
Authorities later petitioned the court to determine whether the girl should be granted an exception under the country’s abortion law. A doctor from the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences in Rohtak, India, told the Times that the girl would “face psychological trauma” if the pregnancy were allowed to proceed.
The Chandigarh girl’s case comes at a time when India’s government has struggled to address growing public outcry over rape and violence against women. The number of reported rapes in the country has steadily risen in the past decade, to what some have called crisis levels.
The problem attracted a surge of attention in 2012 after a 23-year-old woman was gang raped and beaten to death by a group of men on a private bus in New Delhi, in an attack that sparked international horror and outrage.
The government responded by toughening its rape law and speeding up prosecutions of rape cases, as the Post’s Annie Gowen has reported, but convictions are uncommon and women often face victim shaming, fear of retaliation and other obstacles in reporting rapes to authorities.
India has the world’s largest population of sexually abused children. A child under age 10 is raped every 13 hours, the BBC reported in May. More than 10,000 children were raped in the country in 2015 and, in most cases, the abusers are known to the children, according to the BBC.