An 11-year-old girl’s decision to carry a child conceived by rape has ignited a heated national debate over abortion in socially conservative Chile. Chilean President Sebastian Pinera praised the girl on Tuesday for her “depth and maturity” after she said in a recent television interview that she wants to give birth to the baby.
“It will be like having a doll in my arms,” the girl told local Canal 13. “I’m going to love the baby very much, even though it comes from that man who hurt me.”
Canal 13 reported that the girl’s mother’s partner had raped her repeatedly for more than two years. The child’s maternal grandmother reported the abuse to police, who arrested the man. He confessed to abusing the fifth grader, and her mother shocked Chileans by defending him. The man’s relationship with her daughter was consensual, she said.
Pinera pledged the government would look after the child and her baby.
“I’ve asked the health minister to personally look after the [girl’s] health,” he said. “She’s 14 weeks pregnant, and yesterday she surprised us all with words showing depth and maturity, when she said that, despite the pain caused by the man who raped her, she wanted to have and take care of her baby.”
Despite the president’s promise, opponents say the girl’s life is at risk and insist she is not prepared to make a decision about her pregnancy. Chile outlawed all abortions in 1989 under Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. The current government has opposed any loosening of the prohibition. Abortion rights activists see this case as a reason to challenge the country’s pro-life laws.
“The Chilean elite is very conservative and this has had an influence in Congress,” said Patricio Navia, a Chilean political scientist at New York University. “Laws, therefore, change at a much slower pace than the rest of Chilean society.”
But Pinera has a track record of looking out for the best interest of children in the country: He passed protective legislation to combat child abuse, toughened penalties on convicted pedophiles, increased the forensic institute’s budget, and formed a children’s ombudsman to protect their rights. He also banned convicted pedophiles from working near children and required those convicted of sexually abusing minors to register in a database.