The girl, subjected to repeated rape, allegedly by her maternal uncle, is approximately 30 weeks pregnant, according to doctors at the Government Medical College and Hospital (GMCH), Chandigarh, (India) who have examined the girl.
SHE loves to draw, and her favourite cartoon on television is Pokemon. Her elder sister says her favourite subject is English, though for many months now, she has not attended school. At their one-room home, the servant quarters of a government official’s residence in Chandigarh, the 10-year-old girl walks around for a few minutes in the lawn — “doctors have said she should remain active”, says the mother.
The girl, subjected to repeated rape, allegedly by her maternal uncle, is approximately 30 weeks pregnant, according to doctors at the Government Medical College and Hospital (GMCH), Chandigarh, who have examined the girl. On July 18, Chandigarh’s Additional District and Sessions Judge Poonam Joshi turned down permission for the medical termination of her pregnancy on the basis of a report by doctors at GMCH who said that if the girl went in for an abortion, there could be “high chances of physical trauma”, considering her age and her health – three years ago, the girl had undergone a surgery at PGIMER for a hole in her heart. A Delhi-based lawyer has now filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court, seeking medical termination of her pregnancy.
“What does she know, she is only 10 years old. She doesn’t understand all this, she has no idea about her pregnancy. Our plight has become public news… we didn’t want that. We just want her to be healthy and happy. We don’t need any help, we are okay alone. Her father doesn’t want us to talk or say anything about her. He is a broken man since we found out,” said the mother, her eyes brimming with tears.
The mother works as a domestic help at the government official’s residence. Her husband is a watchman in the UT administration, and is studying for an MBA degree through correspondence. The family is originally from Nepal and has been living in Chandigarh for several years.
It was a neighbour who first noticed the 10-year-old’s swollen stomach and brought it to the mother’s notice. “She is a bright girl, regular to school. She would come to me, for help with her English or maths, sometimes with her homework. She was always quick to respond and answer questions. I was the one who asked her mother why her stomach was swollen,” the neighbour said.
“I asked the girl if she was taking medicines for her heart, thinking the swelling could be a side effect of the medicines. She seemed to have put on weight, but the bulge looked like a pregnancy. When I asked her mother if the girl’s periods were regular, she said she hadn’t had them for some months. I asked her to immediately take the child to the doctor,” the woman said.
That same evening of July 13, the mother’s relatives bought home a pregnancy test kit, which confirmed their worst fears. That’s when the girl said her uncle had raped her “five or six times” and allegedly warned her not to talk about it to anyone.
On July 14, the mother lodged an FIR with the police, accusing her brother of rape. The mother told the police that her brother, a watchman in Chandigarh’s Sector 35 and a frequent visitor to their home, had stopped visiting them in March. Police have arrested the 40-year-old, who is now in judicial custody in Burail jail. His wife and three children are in Nepal.
On July 15, after the family approached the district court, the judge ordered the constitution of a medical board with experts from GMCH and asked them to submit a report on the feasibility of medical termination of pregnancy for the 10-year-old.
“We informed the district court that there are high chances of physical trauma. A psychiatrist who was on board concluded, after interacting with the victim, that she doesn’t understand that she is pregnant or the implications of being pregnant,” said a doctor from the Obstetrics & Gynecology department at GMCH who was a member of the medical board constituted by the court.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act(MTP), 1971, does not permit termination of pregnancy after 20 weeks, but in some cases, courts have made exceptions, especially when continuation of the pregnancy poses a danger to the mother or the unborn child.
“‘We submitted our report to the district court after examining the patient and going through the available law and rules. Since the victim’s pregnancy is in an advanced stage, it is a matter of saving two lives. Let the Honorable Supreme Court take a call now on the matter,” said the doctor.
After an examination of the girl, doctors at GMCH found that at this stage, the baby has to be delivered prematurely. “The case can no longer be considered for abortion. It has to be considered as a premature delivery now,” said another doctor at GMCH who is familiar with the case. Doctors said that they cannot predict the outcome of the case or the baby’s chances of survival in case of a premature delivery. The girl’s health, especially her heart ailment, is also a worry, say doctors. “We don’t know what is going to happen in this particular case. The pelvic bones of the 10-year-old are not fully developed,” said the GMCH doctor.
Doctors at GMCH said they are also considering sending the girl to PGIMER. “This is a very unique case and we don’t really know what is going to happen… Infection and hemorrhage to the girl at the time of delivery could be some of them,” said a doctor from the department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at PGIMER.
Court Rejects Abortion Plea
In a controversial decision, a 10-year-old rape survivor was denied permission to terminate the pregnancy resulting from the rape by the district court in Chandigarh on Tuesday. The child was allegedly raped continuously over a period of time by her maternal uncle. She is the daughter of a government employee father and a domestic worker mother, reported Times of India.
The plea for abortion was rejected after it was confirmed that the minor was 26 weeks pregnant. According to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act of 1971, the legal ceiling for abortions in India is 20 weeks. In more advanced pregnancies, exceptions are made by the courts if the foetus is proved to be genetically unviable or if the pregnancy poses a grave threat to the mother’s life.
Since the pelvic bones are not fully developed in girls by the age of 10, as the pregnancy progresses, it could lead to further complications for the little girl.
According to the TOI report, the case has left doctors perplexed and in a quandary, since cases of such young girls getting pregnant are rare, and pregnancies like these are difficult to detect in time for safe abortions. Dr Rashmi Bagga from the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, was quoted as saying that underage pregnancies are tricky because “when a menstrual cycle is missed, it is not noted by underage girls.”
The case also presents a unique problem: both abortion and carrying the pregnancy to term are fraught with risks for the minor’s life. Since the pelvic bones are not fully developed in girls by the age of 10, as the pregnancy progresses, it could lead to further complications for the little girl. Both, vaginal delivery and a C-section, are dangerous at such a young age.
Even though there is legal precedent of courts ruling in favour of termination of advanced pregnancies in raped minors, individual judgements vary dramatically.
Unfortunately, this is not the first case of its kind. Even though there is legal precedent of courts ruling in favour of termination of advanced pregnancies in raped minors, individual judgements in different parts of the country vary dramatically. In 2015, the Supreme Court, in a landmark judgement, ruled in favour of a 14-year-old rape victim, after which her 25-week pregnancy was terminated.
In May this year, another 10-year-old girl from Haryana found herself in a similar situation. Raped by her stepfather, her pregnancy was inconclusively pegged at 18 to 22 weeks when the courts decided to leave the decision of whether it was safe to abort with the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences (PGIMS), the hospital she was admitted at. Doctors at PGIMS decided to terminate the pregnancy.
In June, The Bombay High Court refused a Pune resident’s plea for his 26-week-pregnant minor daughter, a rape survivor, to abort her foetus.
As the MTP Act stands today, women can terminate a pregnancy with one doctor’s medical opinion upto 12 weeks. Between 12 to 20 weeks, the opinion of two doctors is required for an abortion.
Even though the MTP Act seeks to ensure the safety of the girl child by preventing sex-selective abortion, it is a double-edged sword that often claims rape victims as collateral damage. The problem is further exacerbated due to India’s slow legal process.
In January this year, a 35-year-old woman from Bihar was denied abortion by a government hospital and the state’s high court due to an administrative delay. Despite applying for an abortion at 17 weeks, her paperwork got stuck until she was 26 weeks along, leading to a long legal battle. Eventually, she appealed to the Supreme Court and her plea was rejected in May.
The legally enforceable limit of 20 weeks for abortion has been a hotly debated subject in healthcare and women’s rights for years, with multiple calls for amendments to the MTP Act to make abortions more accessible for longer periods to women. As it stands today, women can choose to terminate a pregnancy in consultation with one doctor upto 12 weeks. Between 12 to 20 weeks, the medical opinion of two doctors is required for an abortion.
In 2014, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) (Amendment) Bill was proposed, which sought to raise the limit for termination from 20 weeks to 24 weeks.
In 2006, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare initiated consultations to propose changes to the MTP Act. In 2014, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) (Amendment) Bill was proposed, which sought to raise the legal limit for termination from 20 weeks to 24 weeks, citing major technological breakthroughs in the field and the need to empower women.
In March this year, it was reported that the Bill, based on recommendations from the National Commission of Women, had been submitted to the Cabinet for its approval. However, in a major and shocking setback, in May, the Prime Minister’s Office returned the draft to the health ministry asked it to strengthen the existing MTP and Pre Conception-Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PC-PNDT) Acts.