India’s Supreme Court has refused to allow an abortion for a 10-year-old girl, allegedly raped by her uncle, on the grounds that she is too far into her pregnancy.
A doctors’ panel told the court that, at 32 weeks, termination of the pregnancy would be “too risky”.
Her pregnancy was discovered two weeks ago when she complained of stomach ache and her parents took her to hospital.
A lower court had earlier turned down her plea on similar grounds.
Without disclosing the details of the medical report, the judges on Friday ruled that termination was “not good for the girl”.
They have asked the government-run Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research hospital in the northern city of Chandigarh to ensure that proper medical care is provided to her.
The top court has also suggested that the Indian government set up a permanent medical board in each state to take prompt decisions in such cases.
On Monday, the Supreme Court had ordered doctors to evaluate whether the girl could undergo abortion safely.
The court order came after lawyer Alakh Alok Srivastava filed a public interest petition saying doctors who had already examined the girl found her pelvic bones had not fully developed because of her age and the life of both mother and baby were at “very serious risk”.
“Medical experts have categorically opined that if the 10-year-old is forced to give birth, either through normal delivery or even through caesarean-section, it may be fatal to the life of the rape survivor as well as to her child,” the petition said.
The girl belongs to an extremely poor family, her father is a government employee and mother works as a domestic helper. The girl alleges she was raped several times in the past seven months by her uncle, who has been arrested.
Her pregnancy was only recently discovered because she herself was unaware of her condition.
Indian law does not allow terminations after 20 weeks unless doctors confirm the mother’s life is in danger.
The scale of abuse in India
- 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”
Sources: Indian government, Unicef
The tough law against abortion was introduced in 1971 to prevent illegal and unsafe abortions and curb maternal mortality.
The restrictions remain an important weapon in India’s fight against a skewed gender ratio which has resulted from a deep-seated cultural preference for sons.
Millions of female foetuses have been aborted over the years by pregnant women after undergoing foetal gender testing.
In recent years, Indian courts have received several petitions, many from child rape survivors, seeking to terminate pregnancies after 20 weeks, the BBC’s Geeta Pandey in Delhi says.
In most such cases, the pregnancy is not even discovered until after the 20-week period is over because the children are themselves unaware of their condition, our correspondent adds.
In May, a court in Haryana state asked medical experts to comment on a similar plea and a panel of doctors decided to carry out a termination.
Medical experts say girls can start menstruating and ovulating at nine, but their bodies are not mature enough for pregnancy at that age.
India is home to the largest number of sexually abused children globally, with some campaigners saying it has reached epidemic proportions. But there is a general reluctance to talk about the problem and it is rarely discussed in public.
Studies have shown that in large numbers of cases the abusers are known to the children and include care-givers like parents, relatives and teachers.