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Denied an abortion, 11-year-old rape victim in Paraguay gives birth

In this May 14 photo, a 13-year-old girl, who said she was raped by her stepfather, holds her baby at a shelter for troubled children in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay. Another pregnant girl, whose case drew international scorn when Paraguay’s government denied her an abortion, gave birth Thursday at the age of 11. (Jorge Saenz/Associated Press)

The Paraguayan child sexual assault case attracted international outrage: A 10-year-old girl's stepfather allegedly raped and impregnated her, and officials denied her mother's request for an abortion. When her story came to light in April, the girl was already 22 weeks pregnant.

On Thursday, the now-11-year-old girl she gave birth at a Red Cross hospital in the capital city, according to numerous reports. The baby was born via cesarean section and doctors reported no complications, Elizabeth Torales, a lawyer for the girl's mother, told the Associated Press.

The girl's stepfather, 42-year-old Gilberto Benitez, was arrested in May and is awaiting trial. At the time of his arrest, Benitez said he would submit to a paternity test to show the baby wasn't his. The girl's mother has been charged with negligence.

The case cast a spotlight on child rape, pregnancy and abortion laws in Paraguay. The deeply Catholic South American nation only allows abortion when a mother's life is in danger; in the case of the pregnant child, health officials denied the request, saying the girl appeared to be healthy.

[The horrific child rape case that is tearing Paraguay apart]

“In fact, given the stage of the pregnancy, it’s even more dangerous for the girl to undergo a procedure [to abort] without a well-considered medical, obstetrical evaluation," Lida Sosa, a program director at the public health ministry, said in May.

In Paraguay's Congress, opposition leftist parties called for an easing of restrictions to allow the abortion, Reuters reported. But government officials remained steadfast.

"We're totally against interrupting the pregnancy," Health Minister Antonio Barrios said in May. "The girl is getting assistance permanently in a shelter and the pregnancy is progressing normally without a problem."

While some religious groups commended the decision to refuse the abortion request, a United Nations human rights watchdog group said in May that the Paraguayan government failed to act responsibly in refusing the girl "access to treatments to save her life and preserve her health, including safe and therapeutic abortion in a timely manner." The watchdog group also questioned the mother being punished, and said she had reported sexual abuses in 2014.

[The world’s most Catholic region is becoming dramatically less so]

The girl's mother was released on bond in June, CNN reported. Doctors discovered the pregnancy in April when the mother took her daughter to a hospital because the girl complained of abdominal pain.

Erika Guevara, an Amnesty International director, said in a statement Thursday that the girl "is lucky to be alive. Only time will tell the true extent of the physical and psychological consequences of her tragic ordeal."

The girl surviving "does not excuse the human rights violations she suffered at the hands of the Paraguayan authorities, who decided to gamble with her health, life and integrity despite overwhelming evidence that this pregnancy was extremely risky and despite the fact that she was a rape-victim and a child," Guevara said.

In Latin America, the maternal death rate is four times higher for girls under 16, according to the United Nations.

A 2013 report from the international body found that worldwide, 2 million girls under 14 give birth annually, with an estimated 70,000 adolescents in developing countries dying from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth.

The newborn does not yet have a name, said Torales, the attorney. She added to the AP that the girl's mother and grandmother have requested custody of the infant.


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