The case of an 11-year-old girl who became pregnant after she was raped by her step-grandfather has sparked outrage in Bolivia over the church’s intervention in stopping her from getting an abortion.
The girl became pregnant while she was under the care of her 61-year-old step-grandfather, who raped and sexually abused her, in the town of Yapacani in the Santa Cruz region, while her parents were working in La Paz.
After the girl told her cousin that she was feeling “strange movements in her belly,” her cousin told her mother – the girl’s aunt – who then reported it to authorities.
The girl, who was 22 weeks pregnant, then underwent a psychological interview where she “clearly says all she wanted was for this to be over. She wanted to continue her studies, to be okay and to have what she had inside her body taken out,” Ana Paola García, the executive director of Bolivian women’s rights NGO La Casa de la Mujer, told the Washington Post.
“She didn’t say the word ‘baby’ or ‘pregnancy’ because she had no knowledge of what it meant to be pregnant,” García added.
Her step-grandfather was jailed, and the girl’s mother took her to a women’s hospital, where she could legally seek an abortion as a victim of rape.
Abortion is illegal in Bolivia, except in the cases of rape, incest or in order to protect the woman’s health.
But later, the girl’s mother, accompanied by a lawyer for an organization associated with the Catholic church, said that the girl had changed her mind.
She was then taken to a shelter run by the church’s organization.
“There is evidently manipulation by the Catholic church, which has practically kidnapped the girl and silenced the mother,” García said. “There’s been a total violation of the rights of a poor child who’s 11 years old, who’s being forced to be a reproductive machine.”
Bolivia’s Bishops Conference said in a statement that authorities should “respect and protect the right to live and the right to be healthy of both the girl, who is a victim of rape, and the unborn baby. Both lives should and ought to be protected.”
The news prompted activists to take to the streets to call for justice and the girl’s right to an abortion.
The United Nations in Bolivia condemned the case, saying that submitting a girl to a forced pregnancy is classified as torture.
Bolivia’s human rights ombudswoman, Nadia Cruz, also said her office would be filing a criminal complaint against the hospital personnel, the church organization and the girl’s mother for “breach of duties, and human trafficking with the purpose of forced pregnancy,” according to the Washington Post.
The case has drawn criticism of protection for women and girls in Bolivia, which has one of the highest rates of sexual violence and abuse in Latin America, according to the Guardian.