Full details of the horrific ordeal to which an 11-year-old girl impregnated by an elderly rapist in Argentina was subjected by doctors intent on ensuring the baby survived for religious reasons have been disclosed by campaigners acting on her behalf.
The young girl, who is being called “Lucia” to protect her identity, became pregnant after being raped by her grandmother’s 65-year-old partner, who has since been arrested. She was placed under her grandmother’s care in 2015, after her two older sisters were reportedly abused by her mother’s partner.
Lucia was forced to give birth after authorities in Argentina refused to let her have the abortion to which she was legally entitled – triggering a wave of outrage around the world and reigniting a fierce debate on the country’s restrictive abortion rules.
After being admitted to hospital after two attempts to kill herself, Lucia underwent a Caesarean section at the end of February after 23 weeks of pregnancy. The baby died on International Women’s Day on 8 March. Lucia was discharged from hospital yesterday.
“I want you to remove what the old man put inside me,” Lucia told officials before the C-section was carried out.
Celia Debono, national director of the Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean for the Defence of Women’s Rights (Cladem), which Lucia’s family has asked to legally represent them, told The Independent: “Lucia was frequently given medication, without informing her what the purpose of the medication was.
“On 26 February, the day the Caesarean was performed, they had her fasting all day and the only medication she received was for increasing the growth and development of the foetus, while Lucia’s mother was told they were vitamins.”
Ms Debono claimed the health professionals gave Lucia information that was “not clear or certain”.
“They told her that if the legal interruption of pregnancy was carried out she could die,” she said. “She was given false information – they told her they were injecting vitamins because she was anaemic and not corticosteroids for foetal maturation.”
She added: “The girl was medicated with steroids in order to promote the growth and development of the foetus, even though expressly and by means of a note that the mother presented together with ANDHES [Argentine Northwest in Human Rights and Social Studies] and Cladem organisations, it was specifically requested that medication not be used for the purposes of foetal maturation.”
A local health professional, who wanted to remain anonymous, added: “My understanding is that she was at some point given medication with the intention of increasing lung development of the foetus, while the family was under the impression that such medication were vitamins”.
The young girl went to a clinic in a rural area of Tucuman province on 29 January after suffering a severe stomach ache for several days.
Doctors realised she was 19 weeks pregnant and sent her to a public hospital in Banda del Rio Sali, just outside the provincial capital.
Both Lucia and her mother made it clear they wanted the pregnancy to be terminated, but local officials and activists tried to prevent it.
Ms Debono claimed the young girl was taken to a hospital room to which only her mother and aunt were allowed access.
“None of the lawyers or human rights defenders could approach the girl to find out her health status,” she said.
Abortion is only legal in the case of rape and danger to the life of the woman in Argentina, after an attempt to legalise abortion up to a 14-week threshold was narrowly defeated in the country’s senate last year.
“Lucia qualified under two of them; because her health was in danger, both physically and psychologically and because she had been the victim of rape,” Ms Debono said.
A doctor declared in court that Lucia faced “high obstetric risk” should her pregnancy be permitted to proceed.
Eventually, she was granted an abortion, only for doctors to conclude it was too risky to go ahead with the procedure and perform a C-section instead.
Carlos Sanchez, Tucuman’s archbishop, recorded a message last month revealing Lucia’s real name and calling on Christians to “defend all human life”.
Barbara Jimenez, Latin America and the Caribbean regional coordinator of Equality Now, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) which aims to promote the rights of women and girls, said: “Lucia remained hospitalised for more than a month, was isolated, medicalised and forced to be a mother. Her right to privacy and identity were violated by revealing her name.
“The doctors who agreed to conduct the abortion found her with severe pre-eclampsia which left them with the only option to perform a Caesarean section.”
Pre-eclampsia is a pregnancy complication which can be deadly, characterised by high blood pressure and signs of damage to other organ systems, most often the liver and kidneys.
Ms Jimenez noted that forced child pregnancy is not just a problem in Argentina but across Latin America as a whole.
Tens of thousands of girls in the region become pregnant after being raped every year, according to CLADEM research covering 14 countries.
“Governments need to take immediate steps to protect girls from this widespread sexual abuse,” Ms Jimenez said.
“Forced child pregnancy is violence – the result of sexual abuse and rape. Events leading up to the pregnancy and the pregnancy itself are deeply traumatic for a child and have lifelong implications, both psychological and physical. The body of a child mother is not fully developed and so pregnancy is often damaging to her reproductive system and other organs that are not yet ready for childbirth.”
Dr Erika Brunnoto, secretary of human rights of Tucuman province, did not immediately respond to The Independent’s request for comment.