MANISHA SHASTRI | 31 JULY, 2017
BENGALURU: The Supreme Court has recently passed a judgement denying a 10 year old rape survivor the permission to have an abortion on the grounds that it poses a threat to the girl’s life. The girl, who comes from a poor family in Chandigarh, was raped several times by her uncle. Her pregnancy was unknown of until recently when she complained of severe stomach aches and was taken to the hospital.
Under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy is forbidden, though courts are allowed to make exceptions in cases. The court cited that the ‘abortion was neither good for the girl nor for the foetus’ at this stage, thus turning down the plea.
The court decision was based on the assessment carried out by panel of eight doctors at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) in Chandigarh, who examined the young girl on Wednesday. The panel consisted of gynaecologists, psychiatrists, paediatricians and pulmonologists, all of whom were of the opinion that an abortion in the 26th week of pregnancy would pose a great risk to both lives.
Taking cognizance of the matter the Chandigarh Commission for Protection of Child Rights (CCPCR) has devised a three-pronged approach. They will be providing health and medical aid to the girl and will also work towards providing her and her parents counselling followed by financial compensation. The amount of which will be decided once the SC judgment is officially conveyed to the CCPCR.
The court has also passed a directive asking the government to consider setting up permanent medical boards in every state so that they can make prompt decisions on early abortion.
While these measures are welcome, the matter needs to be approached more critically and holistically.
The girl, coming from an extremely poor family will require more than just a onetime compensation and rehabilitation. The psycho – social implications of having a child at the age of 10 have been over looked, so has the fact that there is no long term care plan here. Will the new born be raised by the young girl? Will the child be put up for adoption? Who will bear the cost of the new born child’s upkeep, schooling, nurturing and other basic needs in the long term?
At present the child has been advised against going to school, to avoid any psychological trauma, but what happens once she has a child, how will she be shielded from the stigma and victimisation that she is unfortunately bound to face in a country where the victim is seen at fault, rather than the accused? What are plans for the long term rehabilitation of the girl and her child to be born? Who will stay at home and take care of the child – the young girl? Or her mother, who works as a domestic worker to support the family’s income?
This is not to say that the Supreme Court’s judgement must be opposed, rather it is to point out that the verdict is piece meal and short sighted. It does something, but not enough.
Unfortunately in India, where increasingly so many children are becoming victims of sexual abuse each day, such situations are bound to arise from time to time. It is not sufficient to just set up a committee to make prompt decisions on early abortions, structures for long term rehabilitation, care and protection need to be set up.
Giving birth at a young age does not merely pose a medical problem but also a social, economical and cultural problem which needs equally and urgent attention. Social, economic and cultural rehabilitation of the victim, the child and the family have to be decided from a case to case basis, given the context of those concerned.
The same solution cannot be provided for all situations, and if provided is bound to fail. All problems, circumstances and situations have a political, economic, social and cultural implication, which the law often overlooks, fails to acknowledge and address.
Laws and policies need to be grounded in the realities of those concerned and not looked upon from merely a ‘legal’ or ‘moral’ perspective. Just a committee for prompt decisions on abortions will not resolve the solutions. In order of laws, judgments and policies in order to be affective – need to be both preventive and rehabilitative nature.