BOGOTA(Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Paraguay’s decision to deny a pregnant 10-year-old girl an abortion after she was allegedly raped by her stepfather has sparked a national debate over the country’s strict abortion law.
Paraguay’s health minister recently refused a request from the girl’s mother to terminate the pregnancy, but rights groups say the decision could put the girl’s health at risk and is “tantamount to torture”.
The girl, who cannot be named, is more than five months pregnant.
In Paraguay, abortion is only allowed when the mother’s life is in danger. In all other cases the procedure is a crime.
The girl’s mother has been imprisoned, charged with breaching her duty of care.
Health Minister Antonio Barrios told Paraguay’s ABC newspaper that doctors and a psychologist were providing care to the girl.
“There are no indications that the girl’s health is at risk ... we are not, from any point of view, in favor of terminating a pregnancy,” Barrios was quoted as saying.
He said health officials only knew about the girl’s case when she was already more than 20 weeks pregnant after she was brought to hospital by her mother complaining of stomach pains last month.
Paraguayan health authorities say even if an abortion were allowed, they would not go ahead because it could be risky for the girl at such a late stage in her pregnancy.
Paraguay’s influential Catholic Church has weighed into the debate, saying human life is sacred and begins at the moment of conception.
The girl’s mother reported last year that her husband was sexually abusing her daughter but the authorities took no action, according to local media reports.
Prosecutors have issued an arrest warrant for the 42-year-old stepfather, who is on the run.
The case has put a spotlight on the taboo issue of incest in the conservative South American nation.
Two births a day occur among girls aged 10 to 14 in Paraguay, and many are the result of sexual abuse by relatives and stepfathers, according to the government.
Rights group Amnesty International said making the girl continue with the unwanted pregnancy was a form of torture.
“Forcing this child to carry a baby to term, against her will, could have devastating health consequences,” Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty’s Americas deputy director said in a statement.
Complications during pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death for teenage girls.
In Latin America the risk of maternal death is four times higher among teenagers under 16 compared to women in their early twenties, according to the World Health Organization.
The U.S.-based Center for Reproductive Rights is calling on Paraguay’s government to ease the country’s tough abortion law.
“This is a tragedy and the 10-year-old girl is being put through this because of draconian laws,” said Monica Arango, the rights group’s director for Latin America and the Caribbean.
“Her reality should spur a serious debate as to the risks to health and life such abortion laws have,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.
Latin America has some of the world’s strictest abortion laws, with six countries imposing total bans.
Reporting By Anastasia Moloney, Editing by Emma Batha