Children Having Children

5359438BY: Jessica Pereira

Ages 9-11 are, according to the CDC, considered “Middle Childhood.” Children might be developing complex friendships, dealing with peer pressue, participating in sports and facing more academic challenges. As middle childhood is approaches, children become more independent and begin to find their footing as they find goals and develop their identities. When I was eleven I was worried about who I would invite to my birthday party, remembering the steps for my ballet recitals, feeding my Neopet, going to a new school, and not much else. Eleven year olds do have a few things to worry about, but having a baby shouldn’t be one of them. Contrary to the notion that young girls should not carry children (as it poses serious health risks and social consequences) it is a sad fact that 2 million births are to girls who are 14 or younger. Most recently, in Paraguay, an 11-year old rape victim gave birth via cesarean section after being denied an abortion. The young girl was allegedly raped and impregnated by her own step-father. Though her mother requested an abortion for her daughter, officials denied said request as laws only permit abortion “when a mother’s life is in danger.” And in this case health officials deemed her to be perfectly healthy. Forcing a child who was sexually assaulted to carry out a pregnancy is an outrage. This Paraguayan child should have been allowed an abortion, and while it may be too late for her situation to be handled appropriately, this event should spark serious abortion law reform in Paraguay and countries alike.

When this case came to light in April, Paraguayans and others from around the world were shocked. At this time the girl was only 10 years old and five months pregnant. The pregnancy was discovered when the mother took her daughter to the hospital after the girl complained about abdominal pain. Authorities immediately arrested the girl’s mother who was charged with child neglect and complicity. The girl’s stepfather, 42 year old Gilberto Benitez Zarate, was arrested as well and charged with rape and abuse of a child. Zarate denies the charges and is awaiting trial. The girl’s mother has since been released on bond, but still faces charges. While many human rights groups, including Amnesty International and The United Nations, supported the request for an abortion, religious groups praised Paraguayan government for denying the request. The deeply Catholic nation is heavily influence by the Roman Catholic Church which was “at the forefront of calls not to allow an abortion.” Spokesman for the Paraguayan Episcopal Conference reaffirmed the church’s position saying “Human life is sacred and should be respected and protected form the moment of conception until death.” Religion aside, no one—especially not a child, should be forced to continue a pregnancy against their will.

Standing at just 1.39 meters or four feet six inches tall and weighing just 34 kilos before her pregnancy, the young girl who turned 11 in may gave birth at 37 weeks. Dolores Castellanos, the doctor who monitored the Paraguayan girl’s pregnancy said that the child gave birth by C-section to a baby girl that weighed 3 Kilograms (about 6.6 pounds). She will remain under observation for the next 72 hours. Mario Villalba, director of the Red Cross Hospital where the baby was delivered said the delivery was “like any other Cesarean, without complications.” While both the baby and the mother are in good health this does no excuse the injustice that ensued here. Religious groups may be rejoicing in the decision to force an unwanted pregnancy on a young girl, but what kind of life will this newborn be met with? What kind of life does this 11 year old girl face? The pregnancy was a gamble to begin with. In Latin American, maternal death rate is four times higher for girls under 16. The pregnancy was extremely risky. Moreover, the psychological state of the mother must be considered as she is a rape victim and a child. Luckily the young girl and her baby seemed to survive the birthing process with no complications, however  the two face many hardships ahead. With a mother who faces charges of child neglect and complicity, with potential prison time, a stepfather who sexually assaulted her and now faces 10 to 15 years in prison, there is not much adult guidance left for this Paraguayan girl when her hospital stay is through. What this girl faces, is life in a shelter. Her baby now has a mother whose body is undeveloped and at a physical disadvantage to care for a baby, along with mind that does not have the mental capacity and maturity to raise a child.  It is clear that an 11-year old girl is not fit to care for a newborn baby however when asked if the child will be able to nurse the baby, Villalba said, “we’ll see how she does as a mother.” The young girl is left without parents, without a home and with physical and psychological trauma that only can be measured with time. As for her baby, she has been brought into a world where her mother is a traumatized child who physically and mentally cannot care for her.

Early pregnancy takes a toll on a girl’s health, education, and rights. It prevents girls from realizing potential and adversely impacts the baby. According to the World Health Organization, the risk of maternal mortality is highest for adolescent girls under 15. Furthermore, complication in pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among adolescent girls in developing countries. For example, the probability that a 15 year old girl will eventually die form a maternal cause is 1 in 160 in developing countries. For a girl under 15, the probability could be even higher. While Public Health Ministry officials may have said there was “no reason to interrupt the pregnancy,” I can’t imagine why these life-threatening risks do no suffice as “reason.” Paraguayan law permits abortion if a mother’s life is endangered, but apparently no one thought that this young girl’s life was in danger. Amnesty International Americas director, Erika Guevara, said that this girl suffered a “human rights violation at the hands of Paraguayan authorities, who decided to gamble with her health, life and integrity despite overwhelming evidence that this pregnancy was extremely risky and despite the fact that she was a rape victim and a child.” A United Nations human rights group also called out the Paraguayan government for failing to act responsibly in refusing the girl “access to treatments to save her life and preserve her health, including safe and therapeutic abortion in a timely manner.”

While many pro-life groups and individuals commended the country’s decision to deny abortion, it is important that we look at the external factors that orbit this particular case. For one, children’s bodies are not meant to give birth. Dr. Dalia Brahmi, the Director of Clinical Affairs said that “It is cruel to force a 10-year-old to carry her pregnancy to term.” As mentioned in the prior paragraph, childbirth is extremely risky—even more so for children. There is high risk of eclampsia, infection, intrauterine growth restriction and more.  If those who would see a young girl’s life and health at risk are truly pro-life, whose life are they concerted about? Because it certainly isn’t the eleven year old girl who was forced to deliver her rapist’s baby via major surgery. And while the mother in this case did not suffer any health complications, it is merely because she beat the odds. Guadalupe Marengo, deputy director for the Americas Amnesty International said that, “The physical and psychological impact of forcing this young girl to continue with an unwanted pregnancy is tantamount torture.” Pro-life is advocating for a life for this young girl, not forcing her to endure more agony and torment. As the Spokesman for the Paraguayan Episcopal Conference said, “Human life is sacred.” So how it is that anyone is okay with the potential destruction of this girl’s life?

Paraguay’s decision to deny this child an abortion is the result of their detrimental adherence to an antiquated and torturous law. About 600 girls under the age of 15 were pregnant in Paraguay this year, many of which were victims of sexual abuse. While this young girl was not given the human rights she is entitled to, this event should serve as a call for major reform in abortion laws. The country can still keep its conservative abortion laws, however when it comes to children having children, these laws should not prevail over the safety of girls. If a young girl, a child, has already been violated, she does not deserve to be violated by her country as well. In a scenario of the rape of an underage child, in order to spare her from physical and psychological risks, safe and timely abortion should always be an option.

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