Childhood Ruined in Paraguay

In the United States, people say that abortion cannot be performed except in cases where the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest, or the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life. Paraguay, on the other hand, bans abortion except for the latter case. Therein lies a big problem: when young girls become pregnant as a result of sexual abuse, the Paraguayan government doesn’t give back their childhoods by aborting their unwanted pregnancies, as with a recent case of an 11-year-old girl who gave birth by cesarean (C-section) on Thursday.

The 11-year-old girl got raped by her stepfather, Gilberto Benitez Zárate, when she was 10. On April 21, the girl, whose name has not been revealed because she’s a minor and an abuse victim, complained about abdominal pain, and her mother took her to the hospital in the Paraguayan capital of Asuncíon. There, they discovered that the girl was 22 weeks pregnant, and authorities immediately arrested her mother for child neglect. They also arrested Zárate, 42, and charged him with rape and child abuse. The girl’s mother was released on bond in June, and she and her family have been pressing for an abortion because being pregnant at such a young age carries significant health risks. Unfortunately, the Paraguayan authorities didn’t see anything wrong with the pregnant 10-year-old girl, so they denied her access to abortion.

Religious groups applauded their decision to make the girl continue her pregnancy–Paraguay is a very Catholic country, after all–but human rights groups, including Amnesty International and the United Nations, harshly criticized it. I stand with the human rights groups. It’s one thing to punish the stepfather for raping and impregnating the child of his wife, which is good justice, but to punish the rape victim by forcing her to continue the high-risk, unwanted pregnancy and raise a child at the extremely young age of 11 is arbitrarily harsh. Being a Catholic country shouldn’t give Paraguay ultimate authority to exploit religion to deny rape victims the right to abort unwanted pregnancies, especially girls as young as 10. I’m Catholic myself, but I really don’t condone Paraguay–or any other religious country–forcing girls and young women to continue unplanned pregnancies as a form a punishment. Sexual abuse victims already feel that getting raped is punishment enough.

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