Paraguay's government has failed to protect a 10-year-old rape victim who is being denied an abortion, United Nations human rights experts said on Monday.
In a statement released in Geneva, the four experts said Paraguay has refused to provide treatment to save the life of the girl, who is five months pregnant, "including safe and therapeutic abortion in a timely manner."
The girl's stepfather, who is accused of raping her, was arrested over the weekend and placed in isolation to prevent other inmates from attacking him. The girl's mother is being held at a female prison for neglecting to take care of her daughter.
The case has set off a national debate in Paraguay, where abortion is banned — including for women who were raped — except when the mother's life is in danger.
"The Paraguayan authorities' decision results in grave violations of the rights to life, to health and to the physical and mental integrity of the girl as well as her right to education, jeopardizing her economic and social opportunities," the experts said.
The World Health Organization says child pregnancies can be dangerous, potentially leading to complications and death. About 600 girls 14 or under become pregnant each year in Paraguay, which has a population of 6.8 million people. Studies by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control say thousands of children in the United States also give birth each year.
Amnesty International has asked authorities to allow an abortion to protect the girl.
Health Minister Antonio Barrios has responded that she is in good health at a Red Cross hospital and that her pregnancy, at five months, is too advanced for her to have an abortion.
A medical panel was created on Monday to assess her mental and physical health, said José Orué, the public defender for children in the city of Luque, where the girl lived with her mother and stepfather near the capital, Asunción.
Experts say the girl isn't ready mentally or physically to give birth. "When her baby arrives, the justice system will have to set a guardian and tutors for both of them," Orué said.
The president of the country's Episcopal Conference, Monsignor Claudio Giménez, recently decried the possibility of a therapeutic abortion, saying that Paraguay is already split over the case. "Some want to legalize abortion, the killing of an innocent who still is in a period of gestation," he said.
But Sen. Esperanza Martínez, a former health minister, complained that the debate about whether the girl is physically able to bear a child overlooks her mental well-being.
Using the slogan "Together we can protect children from abuse," groups staged small protests in Asunción and in Ciudad del Este, on the other side of the country, on Monday, demanding authorities intervene. In Ciudad del Este, children carried signs with handprints painted on them, reading "No more abuse!" Parents said they were outraged that so many young girls were being abused.
The Associated Press