Ticking away

Not all babies are precious gifts. Some are the aftermath of the sordid reality that is the life of India's girl children. A child under 16 is raped every 155 minutes in India, and one under 10 every 13 hours. The physical and psychological trauma of the abuse itself is increased manifold for those young girls who end up pregnant. Compounding the problems of the expectant child is the outdated law that regulates the medical termination of pregnancies in India. Two pleas for abortion reached the apex court recently, one from a 10-year-old girl, 28 weeks pregnant after being abused by her uncle, and another from a 13-year-old, 27 weeks pregnant after being raped by her father's business partner. One was denied permission in light of the medical assessment that said an abortion would pose a threat to the life of both the mother and the foetus. The strange implication seemed to be that the pregnancy of the 10-year-old would get safer as it progressed. The other was allowed to terminate her pregnancy for, as the court rightly asked, how can a 13-year-old be a mother? But in both cases the doctors who first examined the children chose not to perform an abortion, in spite of a clause in the act that allows termination after the deadline if it is "immediately necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman". When the pregnant women in question are children themselves how could the doctors not see abortion as essential to their safety? The court, too, is fettered by a law that has failed to keep up with the times. Medical science has come a long way since 1971 when the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act was passed and late-stage abortions are becoming safer every day. Moreover, for child survivors of rape it is almost impossible to detect a pregnancy within the 20-week window stipulated by the act, in part because the child either does not report sexual abuse for fear or ignorance or she is silenced by societal pressure to save the family's reputation.

  • Published 14.09.17
  •  

Not all babies are precious gifts. Some are the aftermath of the sordid reality that is the life of India's girl children. A child under 16 is raped every 155 minutes in India, and one under 10 every 13 hours. The physical and psychological trauma of the abuse itself is increased manifold for those young girls who end up pregnant. Compounding the problems of the expectant child is the outdated law that regulates the medical termination of pregnancies in India. Two pleas for abortion reached the apex court recently, one from a 10-year-old girl, 28 weeks pregnant after being abused by her uncle, and another from a 13-year-old, 27 weeks pregnant after being raped by her father's business partner. One was denied permission in light of the medical assessment that said an abortion would pose a threat to the life of both the mother and the foetus. The strange implication seemed to be that the pregnancy of the 10-year-old would get safer as it progressed. The other was allowed to terminate her pregnancy for, as the court rightly asked, how can a 13-year-old be a mother? But in both cases the doctors who first examined the children chose not to perform an abortion, in spite of a clause in the act that allows termination after the deadline if it is "immediately necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman". When the pregnant women in question are children themselves how could the doctors not see abortion as essential to their safety? The court, too, is fettered by a law that has failed to keep up with the times. Medical science has come a long way since 1971 when the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act was passed and late-stage abortions are becoming safer every day. Moreover, for child survivors of rape it is almost impossible to detect a pregnancy within the 20-week window stipulated by the act, in part because the child either does not report sexual abuse for fear or ignorance or she is silenced by societal pressure to save the family's reputation.

A woman seeking help from the court will have to wait for the judgment - usually delivered within four weeks or so. However quick, time crucial to a pregnancy is wasted. Besides, the court must guard the rights of minors. Hence the apex court suggested the appointment of medical boards to provide women, especially rape survivors, urgent access to medical care and to consider their requests for abortion. But nothing has been done so far. The proposed amendment to the MTP Act, drafted in 2014, too, is lying with the Prime Minister's Office. The efficiency of the judiciary cannot make up for an apathetic legislature.

About
Author