In a corner of the maternity ward of Kaushambi District Hospital near Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, lies a 13-year-old girl, staring blankly at the ceiling. A shawl is all that shields her from the mid-November chill. She does not have a blanket or a pillow.
The girl is a rape survivor. She is six months pregnant and waiting, endlessly it seems, for an abortion.
She was already over 18 weeks pregnant when her family found out in August, according to a chargesheet filed by the Charwa police in Kaushambi’s district court on September 15. But it wasn’t until late September when the pregnancy started taking a toll on her health that her father admitted her to the Kaushambi hospital. The father asked the doctors for an abortion but they refused. The girl was over 24 weeks pregnant, the doctors said, so they would need a court’s permission to abort the fetus, as the law required.
The father approached the district court seeking permission to terminate the girl’s pregnancy, now in 29th week. On October 15, the court told the chief medical officer of Kaushambi to form a team of doctors and “make sure to take action as per the legal process as soon as possible and inform the court about the action taken”.
The CMO responded on November 2, telling the court the district hospital wasn’t equipped to terminate such a late pregnancy, now in its 31st week, and recommended that the girl be transferred to the Swaroop Rani Nehru Hospital in Prayagraj for the procedure.
“The court’s order is not clear about whether we should conduct the abortion or not. In any case we cannot carry out the abortion process because we don’t have the facilities. The victim might lose her life. She is over 24 weeks pregnant. Still if they want to get an abortion they can consult the Swaroop Rani Hospital in Prayagraj which has better facilities,” the CMO, Dr Sushpendra Kumar, told Newslaundry.
He was seconded by Dr Deepak Seth, the chief medical officer of Kaushambi District Hospital. “We have informed the court that we cannot conduct the abortion as she is a minor and she’s more than 24 weeks pregnant. We might end up losing two lives if there is any complication. It has to be done at a hospital with better facilities and equipment and we have suggested that it be done at Swaroop Rani Hospital in Prayagraj,” he said. “The patient is in perfectly fine condition. She’s in good hands and she will be under our observation until her delivery as instructed by the CMO.”
The victim’s father is not convinced. He accused the Kaushambi hospital mandarins of delaying the abortion on purpose. “They first told me to get a court order for the abortion. When I did they said they still couldn’t do it. They are trying to send us to Swaroop Rani. What if they decline to carry out the abortion in Prayagraj as well? Where will I go after that? They have no sympathy for people like us,” he said. “I am a poor man with a family to feed. I have no money. I have been running from hospital to court every day. How am I supposed to take care of my family if I am running around for justice for my daughter. We don’t want her to have this unwanted child. Who will marry her if she gives birth? She is just 13.”
Govind Pratap Singh, a lawyer in Kaushambi who is representing the victim pro bono, alleged that the hospital refused to conduct the abortion despite a clear order by the court. Told about the chief medical officer’s claim that the court’s order is not clear, Singh accused the hospital authorities of “playing with words”.
The girl, who lives in Kamalpur area of Kaushambi, was raped allegedly by a villager called Shiv Murat Paasi, 20. “Shiv Murat repeatedly raped my daughter inside his house. He also threatened to kill me if she told anyone,” her father told the police. “Shiv Murat abused me, chased me and tried to hit me when I confronted him.”
The girl’s family learned about her rape in August when they found out that she was pregnant. She had undergone an ultrasound after complaining of stomach ache which showed she was over 18 weeks pregnant. The family complained to the Charwa police who filed an FIR and arrested Paasi on August 10. He’s now being tried for rape as well as under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.