by ALEENA BEIG
A man in Paraguay accused of raping his 10-year-old stepdaughter and getting her pregnant was arrested Saturday, May 9th. Benitez Gilberto Zarate, 42, had fled in the wake of the accusation against him. But he denied any wrongdoing to police and local media, and has demanded a DNA test on the unborn child to backup his claim.
An international rights group is pressing the Paraguayan government to allow an abortion for the girl; a procedure that health officials in the South American country have so far blocked.
At issue is Paraguayan law, which bans abortions except in cases where the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life. The Paraguayan Ministry of Health says there is no indication that the health of the girl, now 22 weeks’ pregnant, is at risk.
But the girl’s family is asking for an abortion, and Amnesty International is backing the family up. The group says her age should trigger the health exception and argues that pregnancy poses health risks to young girls whose bodies are not fully developed.
“The physical and psychological impact of forcing this young girl to continue with an unwanted pregnancy is tantamount to torture,” Amnesty International official Guadalupe Marengo said this week. “The Paraguayan authorities cannot sit idly by while this young rape survivor is forced to endure more agony and torment.”
Doctors learned the girl was pregnant after she entered a hospital in the Paraguayan capital, Asuncion, on April 21 for abdominal pain. That spurred a criminal investigation. Authorities allege that she was raped by her stepfather, and that the pregnancy stems from that crime, according to the prosecutor in charge of the case, Monalisa Munoz.
The girl’s mother has also been arrested in connection with the case, Munoz said. She faces charges including breaching her duty of care, Amnesty International said.
Amnesty said the girl’s mother has also asked that her daughter be allowed to have an abortion. But Paraguayan Health Minister Antonio Barrios said the pregnancy would continue. The girl, who has been transferred from a children’s hospital to Asuncion’s Red Cross Hospital, she will be taken to a shelter where the state will oversee her prenatal care.