The Big Story

For seven months in Chandigarh, a 10-year-old child was raped by her uncle. When it was discovered that she was pregnant, the courts – first a divisional court in Chandigarh and then the Supreme Court – acting on the advice of a medical board, denied her abortion on health grounds. Finally, she gave birth at 35 weeks, through a Caesarean section, apparently unaware of what was happening to her body. In this whole sordid episode lies a story of institutional failure.

The divisional court’s decision came when she was 26 weeks pregnant and the Supreme Court’s at 32 weeks. Between the two rulings lies six weeks of precious time in which the case would have wound through the tortuous processes of the justice system. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act allows abortion till 20 weeks. But the act allows for extensions in case of emergencies where there is a risk to the mother’s life. Last month, the Supreme Court allowed an abortion at 26 weeks on the grounds that the foetus had fatal abnormalities. In this case, the board ruled an abortion at that advanced stage would risk the mother’s life, but other experts in the field felt that an actual delivery would be even more so. It has also been pointed out that the board ruled a termination was not safe for either the mother or the foetus, when its primary concern should have been the 10-year-old girl’s life.

To prevent a repetition of this grim story, there need to be several changes in the laws and attitudes that govern institutions. First, activists argue that the government guidelines for safe abortion should allow termination for all victims of sexual abuse, and especially for girls under 18. Second, such cases need to be treated as medical emergencies. Courts cannot be expected to have the expertise to judge whether an abortion is clinically safe and time is lost in setting up ad hoc medical boards. Finally, they point to an institutional bias against abortion. Such prejudices have meant that safe, legal abortions are rarely available for women, pushing them towards unsafe procedures. Until these steps are taken and these attitudes corrected, courts and governments will have participated in an institutional violence against women.

The Big Scroll

Subha Sri B argues that to refuse that to deny abortion to the 10-year-old rape survivor is to inflict fresh violence on her.


  1. In the Indian Express, Pamela Philipose urges the prime minister to ask himself why the country has become a more fearful place under his watch.
  2. In the Hindu, MK Narayanan argues for greater sophistication in Indian diplomacy in order for New Delhi to play a global role.
  3. In the Economic Times, Himanshu Watts says that India has finally got serious about Indian companies flouting mining and environmental laws.


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