Experts laud Kerala verdict allowing termination of 7-month pregnancy in incest case; demand speedy trials

Gynecologists and child rights' experts appreciate the verdict but raise concerns about handling the complexities and trauma both the girl and the baby might have to undergo.

ByChetana Belagere

Published May 22, 2023 | 7:36 PM Updated May 22, 2023 | 7:36 PM

termination of pregnancy in incest case

The High Court of Kerala has granted permission to a seven-month pregnant minor to terminate her pregnancy. The 15-year-old girl was reportedly impregnated by her brother.

The high court passed the judgement on Friday, 19 May, after careful consideration of the girl’s social and mental well-being and the potential complications arising from the incestuous nature of the pregnancy.

Child rights’ experts and gynaecologists lauded the judgement. They said it highlighted the importance of safeguarding the health and rights of vulnerable individuals, particularly in sensitive and challenging circumstances.

However, they opined that the while the pregnancy will be ended, there is — at almost 32 weeks — a high likelihood of a live birth, which would add to the trauma of the girl.

Hence, they have called for expedited legal proceedings in such cases.

Related: Kerala HC permits teen to terminate 30-week pregnancy

The judgement

A single bench of Justice Ziyad Rahman passed the judgement based on a medical board’s report. The board had earlier examined the girl.

Medical experts said continuing the pregnancy beyond 32 weeks posed a serious risk to the social and mental health of the survivor.

Considering the complexities involved in the child’s conception —  including the fact that the baby’s father was her brother —  various social and medical complications were likely to arise.

The court carefully analysed the medical report, which confirmed that the girl was physically and mentally fit for termination of pregnancy. The board also expressed concerns over the possible delivery of a live baby.

Considering these factors, Justice Rahman determined that granting permission for the medical termination of pregnancy was necessary for the girl’s well-being.

The court, while addressing the petition for termination moved by her father, acknowledged the possibility of the child giving birth to a live baby. The acknowledgment was based on the assessment and advice provided by the medical board.

The court also sought a further report in the case after the termination of pregnancy.

Also read: Court allows 15-year-old rape survivor to terminate pregnancy

What will happen to the baby?

Child rights’ experts and gynaecologists South First spoke to opined that handling cases involving children in incestuous relationships required a multifaceted approach. It should include legal, medical, psychological, and social support systems.

While a gynaecologist appreciated the court’s verdict, she opined that such cases called for speedy hearing, ideally even before 24 weeks of pregnancy.

“At 32 weeks, the baby will be born prematurely. It will still cry and breathe,” Dr Devika Gunasheela, Gynaecologist and Obstetrician, and Managing Director of  Gunasheela Surgical and Maternity Hospital in Bengaluru, told South First.

“The girl will experience tremendous trauma. She will have to undergo either a normal delivery or a Caesarian section. She will need a lot of support, both physically and mentally. But my question is what will happen to the baby,” she added.

Handling babies of incest would be a complex and sensitive matter that required careful consideration of various factors.

“While the child still needs to be fed, and taken care of, the state may also have to plan on what it will do with the baby,” she added.

The experts said that it was crucial to involve child protection agencies also in such cases.

Dr Gunasheela added that there were several such incest or rape cases where the pregnancy was not revealed until the seventh or eighth month, or the families hushed it up and force the girl to deliver somewhere away from home, and often abandoning the baby.

“Though this verdict is much appreciated, it would make sense if the entire process could be expedited. It is ideal to terminate the pregnancy before 24 weeks since the foetus’s chances of survival are less,” she added.

Also read:  Kerala HC triggers debate on the right age to conceive using ART

Need to avoid delay

Expressing a similar view, a child rights activist from Karnataka said that judicial delay often complicated such cases.

“The chain is very complicated. First, it is the family, then the police, later the first contact of doctors, and then the second opinion of the medical panel, the court, and then again the panel of the medical board, etc. Time keeps ticking away and the foetus matures, leading to such complications, despite a well-intended verdict,” a child rights’ expert told South First, seeking anonymity.

Meanwhile, Vasudev Sharma, Executive Director of Child Rights Trust in Karnataka, said society cannot turn a blind eye to incestuous relations.

“Incest is an issue that exists from time immemorial. Society cannot close its eyes and mind towards such grave crimes that are happening within families. In many incest cases, it is the minors, even infants, who fall victim,” he said.

Most families avoid discussing the issue even within the family circles, let alone going to the police and filing a case. The POCSO Act demands mandatory reporting.

Also read: How gender equality drive in Kerala schools has been derailed

Support for survivor

“The situation is grave in cases of incestuous relationships leading to pregnancy. A little grown-up girl may also feel that she is a party in it. She might have accepted out of sheer love or care or may have been forced and asked to keep quiet,” he said.

“In such cases, the girl requires to be counselled to realise that she is a ‘victim’ and not a party to it.”

Experts said such survivors should be provided appropriate guidance to give evidence in her Section 164 (confidential) statement, making it clear about the circumstances that led her to an incestuous relationship. She should not feel sorry for her or any family member who had violated her and tried to hush up the case.

“She now requires counselling, physical healthcare (nutritious food and medication), and social and educational rebuilding. Concurrently, the brother (if minor or even major) also needs counselling,” Sharma opined.

“The family members, her close friends, and neighbours, too, should be counselled on how not to hush up such cases but to take bold steps and complain if they counter such cases. Meanwhile, all should help the girl to recoup,” he added.