ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) — 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 case has set off a national debate in Paraguay where abortion is banned in all cases — even rape — 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 such child pregnancies can be dangerous, potentially leading to complications and death.
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.
About 600 girls 14 or under become pregnant each year in this country 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.
But a medical panel was created on Monday to assess her mental and physical health, said Jose Orue, the public defender for children in the city of Luque, where the girl lived with her mother and stepfather near the Paraguayan capital.
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," Orue said.
Paraguayan forensic psychologist Franca La Carrubba said that though the girl is not prepared to be a mother, with medical care she might be able to give birth.
"The aftermath of rape could remain when she becomes a teenager or an adult. It's the most common disorder in these cases," she said.
The president of the country's Episcopal Conference, Msgr. Claudio Gimenez, 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. "And for the other side, those who oppose that idea."
But Sen. Esperanza Martinez, a former health minister, complained that the debate about whether the girl is physically able to bear a child overlooks her own well-being.
Groups staged small protests in Asuncion and in Ciudad del Este, on the other side of the country, on Monday demanding authorities intervene under the slogan: "Together we can protect children from abuse."
In Ciudad del Este, children carried signs that had their hands printed on them in paint and slogans like "No more abuse!" Parents said they were outraged that so many young girls were being abused.
"A child is only a virgin once," said Sebastian Martinez, a march organizer in Ciudad del Este, who came with his 5-year-old daughter. "Their innocence can never be recovered. We have to do more to protect our children."
Associated Press reporter Peter Prengaman contributed to this story from Ciudad del Este, Paraguay.