On 18th July, 2017 Chandigarh District Court refused to let a 10 year-old, minor rape survivor access abortion services. She was 26 weeks pregnant. Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act,2017 does not allow women to abort foetuses beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy. Supreme Court directed the PGI Hospital in Chandigarh to set up a medical board to examine if it was safe to terminate the pregnancy. The 10 year minor rape survivor has entered the 27th week of pregnancy. The medical board is directed to deliver the decision by 28th July,2017.
Let us re-look at the facts here: A 10 year-old young girl has been raped. She has been dragged from one court to another court, one hospital to another hospital and finally she is lying in PGI hospital with a medical board of 8 members who will decide if her pelvis is strong enough to deliver a child. Her body is up for examination and her narrative is up for evidence checking. Sources reveal that both abortion or pregnancy can lead to drastic consequences.
LAWS & POLICIES
Several pieces of legislations actually came in to monitor the child but they failed to provide any respite to the survivor. The MTP Act 1971, says that after 20 weeks seeks medical opinion of 2 registered practitioners to access abortion. Here is a young girl who is raped and is totally dependent on her parents and relatives to access services. Section 357 C of Criminal Amendment Act,2013 clearly provides that the hospitals shall immediately provide the free medical treatment to the victim.
These are some of legislations in place that provides for relief for rape survivors, but in such a scenario where there is a young girl who has been allegedly raped by her relative, how is one supposed to engage with these legislations? Most of these legislations look at punishing the perpetrator but what about the young girl in this case who might have to undergo severe complications and might require a much more holistic approach to justice and healing?
What could have been done better for the young girl, so that she could have approached an institutional set up and actually access better services? Can our public health system make the process easier for her? Who gets to decide if 10 year-old girl could abort a fetus which was a result of a rape? Could she actually go ahead and just get the medical treatment without engaging with the legal system?
Inspite of a public health sector which provides for provisions at different levels, we are still not able to handle the cases of minors getting raped or minors trying to access abortion services. In the Chandigarh case, it was requested to in the Supreme Court to lay down appropriate guidelines to set up a permanent medical board in each district of India for expedient termination of pregnancies in exceptional cases involving child rape survivors. But the issue is, we already have existing mechanisms at the institutional level that have been set up for helping the rape survivors. But have they really been useful or have they been utilised by the survivors?
What could have helped the girl better?
One Stop Crisis Centers were specifically created for rape survivors so that they could access all the services. All services including abortion should have been provided to her. 2 years post Nirbhaya fund, and various studies by organisations later, we are yet to find effective One Stop Crisis centres that provide relief to the survivors. One Stop Crisis Centers in her district could have been one of the possible places she could have gone to access abortion. Could she go there alone? It has been alleged that one of her relative had raped her, in such a scenario how would a One Stop Crisis Centre be useful for her? How many of us even know about One Stop Crisis Centers in our own districts?
If the family had brought her to the health system for help, she could have availed the medical treatment in a speedy manner under Section 27 of POSCO Act, 2013. But again she needed the help of a guardian. As she is a 10 year old she could have approached the Adolescent Friendly Health Clinic, which provides gynaecological services in cases of crisis in her Community Health Clinic in her district. She could have been referred to a gynaecologist and she could have suggested an abortion. AFHCs are still not being used by adolescents.
Will one more board help?
Why are we still seeking for more institutional mechanisms when we are not able to ensure that young people are able to use the existing mechanisms without the help of adults? The 10 year-old had to run from one institution to another before she was finally placed at one of the biggest hospitals in Chandigarh. Most of the debate around this 10 year-old is about the number of weeks of her pregnancy. The courts, the hospitals, the police and the family have made her into a case study. The 10 year-old needed help and should have been able to access these existing mechanism provided in the system, if there was information, if she and her people around her knew of some of the existing mechanisms that could help her. We should have ensured that she gets medical treatment and then we could have followed up with the legal case. In our thirst to get her justice, we have been so entangled with the procedures that today in between 27th and 28th week, her life and her well beings depends on the opinions of experts.