A 10-year-old girl, with her mother, arrived at a hospital in Asunción, Paraguay on April 21 with stomach pains. This was not her first visit to a doctor in the past month, but multiple doctors had found no cause for the pain and sent her home.
This time though, the doctors were able to identify the cause of the discomfort: the girl was 21 weeks pregnant, the result of having been raped by her stepfather.
Pregnancy at such a young age is considered high risk by the World Health Organization — child pregnancies are extremely dangerous for the health of the girl and may lead to complications and even death.
Because the bodies of young girls are not fully developed to carry a baby, these pregnancies usually tend be high risk. In Latin America, the risk of maternal death is four times higher among adolescents younger than 16 years old. The Paraguayan Minister of Health, however, has repeatedly stated that there is no indication the health of the girl is at risk, despite this mountain of evidence to the contrary.
The girl’s mother has submitted an administrative plea to request an abortion, but the outlook isn’t encouraging.
Paraguayans are subject to some of the strictest abortion laws in the world, permitting the procedure only when the mother’s life is in danger. No other exceptions are allowed, even for cases of rape, incest, or unviable fetus. Such restrictions to abortion access violate international human rights law and standards.
Yet, even with the risk to the health and life of the girl, Paraguayan authorities have so far denied her access to a safe abortion. Instead, she has been transported to a center for young mothers. Even worse, her mother was arrested for breaching duty of care, so the girl is now alone. The stepfather fled when he first heard of the charges but was apprehended 15 days later. The state has said they will determine guardians for the young girl and her new baby after the birth.
Thousands of people around the world are outraged by the case and have joined international letter-writing campaigns to urge the Paraguayan government to allow a therapeutic abortion.
Amnesty International is leading an effort to demand that the authorities in Paraguay “show humanity and respect the dignity and wishes of this young girl and her mother” and to ensure that the young girl has access to all her rights, including an abortion in cases of rape, incest, and when the life or health of the mother is at risk. Amnesty has already collected more than 110,000 signatures urging President Horacio Cartes to ensure the 10-year-old girl is given access to a medical procedure that might save her life.
These petitions will be delivered to the Paraguayan embassy on Monday, May 18, and Amnesty members are working around the clock through the weekend to gather as many signatures as possible. Tens of thousands more have sent pledges from other locations, including a similar effort by the Center for Reproductive Rights, aimed at the country’s Health Minister.
“In denying this girl her right to a life-saving abortion, Paraguay is re-victimizing a child who has already survived rape by a close relative,” noted Tarah Demant, Senior Directory of the Identity and Discrimination Unit at Amnesty International USA. “Paraguay has so far been unresponsive to the pleas of the girl’s mother, to international outcry and to its obligations under human rights law.”
The United Nations released a statement earlier this week that further condemned the inaction of Paraguayan authorities. In the statement, U.N. experts noted that “the Paraguayan authorities’ decision results in grave violations of the rights to life, to health, and to physical and mental integrity of the girl as well as her right to education, jeopardizing her economic and social opportunities.”
A medical panel in Paraguay was created on Monday to assess the girl’s mental and physical health. Many expect a report from them within the next week.