This photo was taken on my confirmation day one month shy of my 10th birthday It captures my mortification at being asked to hold hands with my cousin who is clearly also uncomfortable, I think he may even be blushing. I am laughing with embarrassment but I distinctly remember being truly grateful that my white gloves saved me from having to hold hands with an actual boy.
In Paraguay, Mainumby* was 10 years old when her mum brought her to hospital after she complained of tummy pains and a swollen stomach in April. When she discovered that her daughter was pregnant Mainumby’s mum asked for an abortion for her daughter who had been raped by her step-father, sparking controversy and international interest.
Paraguay has very strict abortion laws and abortion is only allowed where the life of the mother is in danger. The decision of the authorities not to allow the termination attracted condemnation from UN health officials, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and women’s rights groups in Paraguay.
Mainumby is in the news again following the birth, by caesarian section, of her child. The now 11-year old mother and her baby are reportedly doing well. When I gave birth to my first child in my 20s I felt far too young to be responsible for the life of my infant son. It was wonderful and joyful, but also daunting and overwhelming. Given her age and the fact that she was raped I wonder if Mainumby feels joyful, I wonder if she feels overwhelmed, I wonder if she feels supported or further abused. I wonder does she feel like a pawn in a political debate. She is a child, she was raped and she is a mum. I wonder if she can articulate what she feels.
The personal can often get lost in the political so I decided to read a little more. I had innocently assumed that Mainumby’s case had made the news because her extreme youth made it unique, a useful ‘test’ case for those advocating polar viewpoints.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Sadly, I learned today that 600 children under the age of 14 give birth every year in Paraguay.
In a country with a population of 6.8 million, that is a staggering statistic and an inordinate amount of sexual abuse and human suffering. Today I read that child rape is so common in Paraguay that some argue that it has become normalised in this predominantly Catholic country.
Mainumby’s gynaecologist, said in a press release, that he was surprised at the latest fuss because last year a nine-year-old girl gave birth safely.
An alarming comment from a medical professional that serves to support the view that normalisation of child rape, or at the very least normalisation of the reproductive consequences of child rape is happening, right now, in Paraguay. Clearly the large numbers being witnessed by medical professionals is desensitising them to the underlying problem of child rape. I don’t know how to do the math but the question has to be asked.
How many children have to be raped to give rise to 600 recorded births a year?
Managing safe births in 9 year-olds or providing legalised, safe terminations are really just band-aids on a festering, infected, open wound.
Whatever your stance on abortion no one can condone continued abuse. Less time pontificating about the rights of the unborn and more time spent protecting the fundamental rights of those who have already been born is what is needed. I know little about Paraguay outside of its geographic location and the fact that a huge proportion of its population are poor.
I understand that congressmen have suggested imposing harsher prison sentences.
I suspect that what is really needed is awareness and education, if only as a first step towards granting the fundamental right of a childhood free from rape. Addressing the source of the problem of child pregnancy, will in the longer term, hopefully negate the need, in anything other than the rarest instances, for decisions the pregnancy of a 10-year old child.
*Mainumbay is her legal pseudonym