Case of girl raped, impregnated sparks protests, debate in Bolivia
Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Oct 26 (EFE).- “Girls, not mothers” and “Save two lives” are the competing slogans being wielded at demonstrations in Bolivia regarding the case of an 11-year-old girl who was impregnated after suffering repeated rape and other sexual abuse by the father of her stepfather.
The case occurred in the town of Yapacani, in Bolivia’s eastern Santa Cruz region, where the girl, who is 21 weeks pregnant at present, was living with her sisters and step-grandfather, who is now in jail for the crime, because her parents were in La Paz working.
Initially, the girl had expressed her desire not to complete her pregnancy, and her mother was in agreement with this decision, but after being contacted by a religious organization, the woman changed her mind and stopped the process leading to an abortion, a move than unleashed heavy debate and criticism.
“Child pregnancy is torture” and “Girls, not mothers” were chanted by a group of activists who came to the main plaza in Santa Cruz waving the green handkerchiefs often seen in local campaigns to decriminalize abortion.
These feminist groups questioned whether the girl was being “pressured” to continue with the the pregnancy “against all established laws,” activist Carmen Sanabria told EFE.
“What’s being done here is to give legitimacy to an act of rape and reward that rapist. They are making a rapist into a father and are making a girl into a breeding machine,” she said.
The activist noted the 2014 constitutional ruling making interrupting a pregnancy legal in the case of rape without the need to obtain a court order, as had been required prior to that.
Sanabria said that the activists will turn to international organizations to ask “them to take note of this case, sanction and take measures … against those entities who have failed to comply with the law.”
Meanwhile, another group turned up at the Percy Boland Women’s Hospital, where the girl has been admitted, carrying signs reading “Respect the decision of the girl’s mother” and “Children’s Ombudsman, protect the two children.”
“We’re here to defend those two lives, to tell the Children’s Ombudsman to take care of the lives of the two children, because the man behind it is also a Bolivian, and a Bolivian has the same rights as the 11-year-old girl,” Ana Rodriguez, who identified herself as a “common citizen” concerned about the case, told EFE.
Rodriguez said that her group will maintain a “vigil” until the girl leaves the maternity ward because the Children’s Ombudsman’s office of Yapacani is “pressuring her to have an abortion” despite the apparent fact that it’s the “will” of both her and her mother that the pregnancy continue.
Abortion is allowed in Bolivia for victims of rape, although up until 2014 a court order was required for the procedure. Starting with the constitutional ruling in that year, merely a copy of the legal rape complaint is required to terminate a pregnancy.
According to figures from the Casa de la Mujer, in 2020 39,999 pregnancies of girls under age 18 were reported in Bolivia, meaning that about 110 minors become pregnant each day in Bolivia, of whom an average of six are under 13 years of age.
The Ombudsman’s Office has lamented the “lack of responsibility” shown by the media in the matter, saying that “instead of focusing on the crime of rape … they exposed the victim’s situation.”
The office also noted the “lack of compliance” by political and health officials involved with the case regarding the handling of information and the proceedings that should have been followed to terminate the girl’s pregnancy, as well as the religious “intervention” in the matter.
The Bolivian Bishops Conference said in a statement that “both lives deserve to be, and must be, protected,” adding that “abortion in Bolivia is a crime, even on the grounds of impunity.”
Cladem Bolivia – the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women’s Rights – condemned the “involvement of fundamentalist groups and the Catholic church” in the matter and said that forced child pregnancy “is torture.”