South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Collective feels it is tantamount to obfuscation of abortion laws, causing undesirable and damaging delays

A collective of public health experts, lawyers, and human rights activists have expressed serious concern over courts repeatedly refusing permission to child rape survivors to undergo abortion and thus forcing the children to carry their unwanted pregnancy to term.

The intervention of courts and the ad hoc medical opinion they receive in such matters tantamount to obfuscating of existing abortion laws, causing undesirable and damaging delays in these cases.

In the process, the child rape survivors become victims of gross injustice as it is neither the courts nor the doctors who have to take responsibility for the social consequences of a child giving birth to another child, a recent statement issued by Common Health (a coalition for maternal-neonatal health and safe abortion), National Alliance for Maternal Health and Human Rights, Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, and CEHAT Mumbai, among others, said.

The cases in point are that of a 10-year-old girl in Chandigarh, who became pregnant after being sexually abused by her uncle. The district court and later the Supreme Court too, on the basis of medical opinion, denied permission for an abortion to the girl, who by then was 32 weeks into her pregnancy. Nearer home, in Kochi, a 12-year-old girl who was 28 weeks pregnant after being abused by her brother, was denied abortion by the Hight Court. Sadly for the victims, in both cases the medical advice the court received was that abortion would be hazardous.

Belated reporting

In most cases of child sexual abuse, the child reports the abuse belatedly and she is too young to know that she is pregnant. By the time adults realise this, the pregnancy might be advanced.

The collective feels that in such circumstances, abortions should be legalised without requiring the court to intervene because the risk of a young girl of 10 or 12 years carrying a pregnancy to term is much more than the risk of medically terminating it.

It says that the government should allow legal abortion for any girl/woman who has been raped or sexually abused, and in such cases, there should be no legal upper time limit on abortion.

This is in keeping with the provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013, which provide for the right to treatment for sexual abuse survivors. Abortion is an essential component of such treatment.

“The medical fraternity needs to understand this legal aspect instead of kicking the issue to the courts back and forth and delaying the solution. Abortion is a safe procedure when done by a trained person. Pregnancy in a young girl of 10 or 12 years of age is extremely unsafe because the uterus is underdeveloped, the cervix and birth canal are far too narrow. The trauma of a vaginal or C-section delivery could pose serious risk to life in such young children,” points out T.K. Sundari Ravindran of Common Health and a signatory to the demand.

There is also the issue that rather than scientific evidence, the individual beliefs regarding abortion, religious or moral, of clinicians and judges could be a guiding factor in the decision regarding the provision of timely care to young rape survivors.

There is growing clinical evidence in the West that even in very young rape survivors, third-trimester abortion can be done safely, according to Lisa H. Harris, professor of Reproductive Health, University of Michigan.

“A serious discussion should happen within our medical fraternity regarding the ramifications of an immature young child being allowed to carry a pregnancy to term. Because the courts and child protection agencies always go by the medical advice they receive,” points out J. Sandhya, member, State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights.


Updated On:  AUGUST 05, 2017