There are a lot of things that parents expect their ten-year-old child to do. Their chores, their schoolwork, and working to understand the difference between right and wrong.
Giving birth is not on that list.
Yet, due to an all too common case of sexual assault on a child, it occurred to a ten-year-old girl in Chandigarh, India. On August 17th, the girl gave birth by Cesarean section to a baby girl. At birth, the baby was premature at thirty-five weeks and weighed only 4.8 pounds. Both mother and child were unscathed, with the child being housed in neonatal care due to its early arrival.
The birth comes on the heels of the young girl having been sexually abused and impregnated by her uncle for several months prior. Her parents, never assuming their ten-year-old daughter could be pregnant, only found out in mid-July when she was taken to the doctor after having complained of stomach pain.
During her pregnancy, the innocent young girl had no idea she’d been raising a tiny human in her womb. Instead, she was told that the bulge in her stomach was a large stone that needed to be removed. Because of her age, the incident turned into a media firestorm. Mahavir Singh, who is part of the Chandigarh State Legal Services Authority, summed it up perfectly: “We have seen lots of cases of teenage pregnancies involving 14 to 15-year-olds, but this is the first ever case that I have seen of a 10-year-old.”
Singh was directly involved in the young girl’s case. This included when, at 35 weeks, a claim was filed in the girl’s name, asking the Supreme Court for permission to have an abortion.
The pregnancy continued. The young girl was put on a diet of fish, fruit, eggs, milk and chicken as the media and counselors alike camped outside the family’s residence night and day. While she enjoyed the extra attention, it took a toll on her parents. The father works for the government while the mother is a domestic helper and both were stricken by the idea that their daughter had been violated so intimately.
“Her mother has never talked to me without crying,” said Pratibha Kumari, a policewoman who’d investigated the case, “The father says he feels like his daughter has been murdered.” She described the girl’s family as a “very nice family, who are so simple that they didn’t even realise what this man was doing to their daughter.”
The amount of press the case received was just as upsetting. While the immense amount of journalists covering the story may have intended their coverage to help provide the girl with the best medical care possible, it also meant a complete loss of privacy for the family. A loophole in the law meant that while the young girl’s name was not explicitly mentioned in any reports, the name of the man who assaulted her was mentioned extensively, allowing readers to easily connect the dots.
Now, after the birth, the girl’s parents are choosing to distance themselves as far away as they can from the press, including through the complete shunning of the baby. The baby will be looked after by a child welfare committee until it can be put up for adoption.
It will be a long time before the young girl and her family stop feeling the effects of their trauma. According to a local journalist, the parents fear the stigma their daughter will face in adulthood, and the psychological trauma associated with the case will have no doubt left its mark on her. Still, one can only hope that the case helps shine a light on the issue of child sexual abuse with its widespread media coverage helping to make it a topic that is more openly discussed in India.
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