Four months ago, I wrote a column about a 10-year-old girl in India who had become pregnant after being repeatedly raped by her uncle (see “All Eyes on Haryana” which ran in this space on May 18).
The pregnancy was not discovered until the girl was in her sixth month, when her mother took her to a local hospital with a “stomach ache.”
At that time, the family requested that the girl be given an abortion, but under Indian law, medical termination can only be granted if the fetus is less than 20 weeks old, unless the pregnancy poses a physical threat to the life of the mother (there is no mention of mental health in the edict).
A seven-member, all-male panel of physicians at a local clinic reviewed the case and determined that the girl’s physical health would not be compromised by continuing the pregnancy to term.
The family appealed to both a local court and to India’s Supreme Court to overturn the medical board’s decision to not grant termination of the pregnancy, but their plea was flatly denied.
Earlier this month, the 10-year-old rape victim — who is so young that she does not fully understand the human reproduction process or how she became pregnant — gave birth to a 2.2-kilo baby girl through Caesarean section at a state-run hospital in the northern Indian village of Chandigarh.
The girl’s family decided to place the baby, which was born prematurely at 35 weeks, up for adoption, stating that they preferred to have “nothing to do” with the infant.
The 10-year-old girl, who at the time of this writing was still in the hospital recovering from her surgery, had no voice in determining the fate of her child.
As for the uncle, he has been detained and is awaiting trial pending an investigation on the charges of rape and child abuse.
But given the current lackadaisical legal approach toward such cases in India, chances are he will soon go free.
The saga of India’s 10-year-old rape victim is sad, but, unfortunately, not uncommon.
Although the girl is believed to have been the youngest rape victim to give birth in that county, according to the Indian government’s own sources, a child under the age of 16 is raped every 155 minutes, a child under 10 every 13 hours.
Those same government sources reported that more than 10,000 children were raped in 2015 (the latest year for which such statistics are available).
Moreover, according to UNICEF, at least 240 million women living in India were married off before they turned 18, and a staggering 53.22 percent of children who participated in a government study reported some form of sexual abuse.
Half of abusers are known to the child or are “persons in trust and caregivers,” and the conviction rate for the alleged perpetrators is less than 15 percent.
Traditionally, daughters are not cherished in India, where they are too often seen as a financial and social burden.
Gender-based abortions and infanticide are common practice across the country, both in rural and urban societies.
According to United Nations figures, prenatal sex selection and infanticide have accounted for the perinatal termination and death of more than half a million girls per year over the last 20 years.
Earlier this month, a new 2-2-kilo female infant came into the world in the Indian village of Chandigarh.
We can only hope that her fate in life will be more promising than that of her mother.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected].