By Anastasia Moloney
BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - - Paraguay has been told by a leading human rights watchdog to protect the life and health of a pregnant 10-year-old girl allegedly raped by her stepfather but denied an abortion in a case that has sparked a global outcry.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights intervened this week to demand the Paraguayan government act to protect the girl who is six months pregnant, warning she was four times more likely to die in childbirth than an adult.
The plight of the girl, known as Mainumby, triggered intense debate in Paraguay about the country's strict law on abortion, which is banned in the predominately Catholic country in all cases except when the mother's life is in danger.
"(The) girl Mainumby faces a serious and urgent situation in that her life, health and personal integrity are threatened and at risk," said the U.S.-based commission, part of the 35-member Organization of American States.
The ruling makes it clear that Paraguay needs to step up care for the girl and ensure she receives all the medical treatment she needs and that she can also participate in decisions affecting her health.
The ruling, handed down on Monday, comes after Paraguay's health minister refused a request from the girl's mother in late April to terminate the pregnancy, a decision described by human rights group Amnesty International as "tantamount to torture."
Paraguay has until Thursday to respond to the commission's ruling. If it fails to implement the recommendations, campaigners can take the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica, the region's top human rights court.
Last month police arrested the girl's 42-year-old stepfather, who is accused of raping the child. He denies the charges, according to local media.
The girl's mother has also been imprisoned, charged with breaching her care of duty.
The girl's mother reported last year that her husband was sexually abusing her daughter but authorities took no action, the commission's ruling said.
The ruling cited a May medical report by Paraguayan health authorities, saying the risk the girl faces of maternal death is four times higher than an adult woman because of her age and undeveloped body.
"This is a human rights issue. The girl's life is very much in danger," said Shelby Quast, policy director at campaign charity Equality Now, which filed a petition on the girl's case to the Commission along with women's rights organization CLADEM.
The case has sparked criticism from the United Nations.
In May four U.N. human rights experts said Paraguay had "failed in its responsibility to act with due diligence and protect the child."
Paraguay's Congress has debated the case with opposition leftist parties calling for an easing of the law to allow abortion under certain circumstances.
But Paraguay health minister Antonio Barrios has defended the government's handling of the girl's case, saying her health is not at risk and that doctors and a psychologist are providing care for her at a hospital in the capital Asuncion.
The case has put the spotlight on the taboo issue of incest in the conservative South American nation.
In Paraguay, two births a day occur among girls aged 10 to 14 in the country of 6.8 million, and many are the result of sexual abuse by relatives and stepfathers, rights groups say.