12-year-old rape survivor’s battle to terminate forced pregnancy in Telangana exposes an insensitive system

After a medical board denied an MTP citing legal issues, the survivor's lawyer approached High Court and obtained a favourable order.

ByDeepika Pasham

Published Jul 11, 2024 | 10:00 AM Updated Jul 11, 2024 | 10:52 AM

Sexual assault. Representational Image. (iStock)

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) of a minor survivor from the Medchal-Malkajgiri district of Telangana on Sunday, 7 June, raises several questions on the functioning of the legal and medical system.

After the medical board of Gandhi Hospital in Secunderabad denied an MTP citing legal issues, the survivor’s lawyer approached the Telangana High Court and obtained a favourable order.

A victim of multiple sexual assaults, including an alleged gang rape, the minor girl — a child to be specific —had to go under the knife for an MTP when the pregnancy was around 28 weeks.

According to the lawyer, the 12-year-old and her mother — whose husband had passed away — had to undergo mental agony following the tedious legal formalities, including police investigation, and the alleged lack of support from the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) and the hospital.

However, the CWC argued that much like everyone else, the foetus too had the right to live.

Meanwhile, the Neredmet police have registered a case and arrested 10 people for allegedly gangraping the girl.

Complying with the court orders, the police have also collected tissue samples from the aborted foetus and sent them to labs to conduct a DNA test.

“We have arrested 10 accused and they are under custody and the case is being investigated. A female constable will produce the minor in front of the Child Welfare Committee after she is discharged from the hospital,” Neredmet Police said.

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The incident

The 12-year-old was allegedly gang-raped at a place under the limits of Rachakonda Commissionerate in Telangana.

Following the incident, the girl’s mother approached the police and filed a case on 25 June.

The police intimated the case to the CWC of the Medchal-Malkajgiri district, who found out that the girl was pregnant.

The CWC counselled the girl and family and obtained in writing that the pregnancy needed to be medically terminated since she was not mentally mature enough to handle pregnancy and subsequent motherhood.

The CWC wrote to the Superintendent of Gandhi Hospital in Secunderabad requesting its medical board to perform the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) under the MTP Act, 2021.

“As per medical records, the child/victim is confirmed pregnant. After meeting and interacting with child/victim and the mother of the victim/child they have requested the Committee to allow for the termination of the pregnancy. Child Welfare Committee of Medchal Malkajgiri is recommending the termination of pregnancy, if possible, based on the medical tests, the victim’s health condition and as per the opinion of the medical board,” the CWC wrote in its letter.

However, the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Department of the hospital denied permission for the MTP citing that that the pregnancy has reached more than 24 weeks.

“The 12-year-old victim is 26 weeks to 27 weeks pregnant and as per the MTP Act of 2021, the pregnancy cannot be terminated since the gestational age of the victim is more than 24 weeks and the length of pregnancy that is allowed for MTP,” the hospital said in its response.

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Condition of the family

However, the victim’s lawyer, Vasudha Nagaraju, said that the family had no educational background and were unaware of the procedures for terminating an unwanted pregnancy.

“The condition of the woman and her daughter was helpless. They had no knowledge of the procedure on how to terminate the pregnancy. They were daily wage labourers who had no educational background. However, they were adamant that they wanted to terminate the pregnancy. In that case, the CWC or the police could inform their government counsels to take a decision or file a writ petition in the Telangana High Court along with the medical board report but nothing was done,” Nagaraju said.

“When the medical board of Gandhi Hospital ruled that the termination of pregnancy was not possible the victim was left at the hospital. She is not even 12 according to my records. Imagine the condition of a child who might have to give birth to another child. There are also chances that the victim could die as the pregnancy was risky,” she added.

“There is a Supreme Court judgement that ruled in favour of termination of pregnancy of minors, if ‘continuation of pregnancy was against the will of the minor may impact her physical and mental well-being.’ In that case, one should fight for the victim, right?” questioned Nagaraju.

“I asked the mother and victim if they wanted to terminate the pregnancy and they said that is what they were requesting the officials for. Following that, we filed a writ petition. The Telangana High Court immediately asked for an opinion of the medical board and later a decision to terminate the pregnancy was ordered,” she added.

Subsequent to the harrowing experience and the following legal and medical procedures the mother-daughter duo is in agony, said Nagaraju.

According to the lawyer, explaining the incident to different police officers, including senior police officers, was not a pleasant experience for the girl. It took a mental toll on her.

The single mother, who used to work as a housemaid, is left with no work now. She has also sent away her other two daughters to their native village.

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Allegations against the CWC, hospital

The lawyer alleged that the CWC and the authorities of Gandhi Hospital did no follow-ups after the medical board denied the option to terminate the pregnancy.

However, CWC Medchal-Malkajgiri District Chairperson AM Raja Reddy denied the allegations and said that they could not go above the medical board decisions.

“Our primary duty is to counsel the mother and the survivor. In several sexual assault cases, the victims open up only to the CWC officers, and not police officers or lawyers. We know the rules. We interacted with them and asked them whether they wanted to terminate the pregnancy. When they said yes, we contacted the medical board of Gandhi Hospital. They gave a report saying that it was not possible,” Reddy said.

“We have no right to go above the decision of the medical board. The girl was also diagnosed with Hepatitis B. And to be more specific, the foetus also has the fundamental right to live. We witness around 3500 cases every year where the parent would be a minor girl. Following the birth the children are given to us,” he added.

“We know she was a minor. But what was done here? The minor had an experience of childbirth. The foetus was alive for hours and then died. As Child Welfare Committee, our duty is to protect lives,” explained Reddy.

He also claimed that no lawyer or police officer would be there after the girl was discharged from the hospital and it would be their duty to take care of her.

“We will counsel her and keep her in a government home. The girl dropped out of school and we need to give her a vocational course and counselling for mental agony as she had to interact with senior police officers and answer so many unnecessary questions from whoever visited her. If she is sent home society will keep disturbing her,” he added.

South First tried to approach the Superintendent and the Gynaecology Department of Gandhi Hospital but no responses were received.

(Edited by Muhammed Fazil)

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