The news travelled around the world: the child refused an abortion by both a district court in Chandigarh and the Supreme Court of India, in both cases on the grounds that abortion was too risky at 28 weeks and then again at 32 weeks, was delivered by c-section last week and will be kept in hospital for some 10 days. Although the hospital was reported to say that the child and the 2.2kg premature infant were both “doing fine”, the facts are other: The girl was put through major surgery. She was told a large stone had to be removed from her stomach. How will she feel when she is old enough to know better? Her abusive uncle is in prison. Her parents are shattered from the discovery of the abuse, the publicity the story generated and two failed court cases in which the girl’s interests were the least important item on the agenda and the facts about the safety of abortion at 28 weeks of pregnancy were absent.
The ink had barely dried on this case when another case emerged of a pregnant 12-year-old, also a victim of sexual abuse, also in the late second trimester of pregnancy, who was removed from her parents’ care on spurious grounds when she was first seen in the hospital. Thankfully, the Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes (CEHAT), who have a 24*7 support service for survivors of rape and sexual abuse, their families and doctors, were able to provide the necessary intervention so that her family got custody of their daughter back again. They will continue to help the girl and her family to cope up with whatever is in store for her. Her situation is uncertain, however. It has so far proved impossible to find a second obstetrician-gynaecologist willing to come forward to authorise/do an abortion on the grounds of serious risk to the girl’s mental health following rape, which is clearly permitted under the 1971 MTP Act.
Last week, however, for the first time in India, a survivor of rape in Bihar was awarded compensation by the Supreme Court of 600,000 Rs (about US$ 10,600) for the delay in providing her with an abortion. The woman, aged 35, was 26 weeks pregnant. The High Court had called for a medical board to be constituted, to decide if she had a right to an abortion, leading to significant delay. The Supreme Court said the High Court failed to adhere to the stipulation in the MTP Act that abortion can be provided in the case of an allegation of rape. Thus, the Bihar case provides a judgment that advocates think can be built on.
The statistics on the scale of sexual abuse of children in India speak for themselves. The BBC reports that according to UNICEF and Indian government data:
> 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”.