Human rights advocates urge Paraguay to grant abortion to 10-year-old rape victim

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Pedestrians walk past a maternity home for sexually abused and pregnant girls and teenagers where a 10-year-old who was allegedly raped by her stepfather is being cared for in Asuncion, Paraguay, on May 8, 2015. The case has become the focal point of a wrenching debate over abortion and child abuse in this conservative Catholic country. (Photo: NORBERTO DUARTE/AFP/Getty Images)

Pedestrians walk past a maternity home for sexually abused and pregnant girls and teenagers where a 10-year-old who was allegedly raped by her stepfather is being cared for in Asuncion, Paraguay, on May 8, 2015. The case has become the focal point of a wrenching debate over abortion and child abuse in this conservative Catholic country. (Photo: NORBERTO DUARTE/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (PIX11/AP) — Human rights experts are calling on Paraguay’s government to defy its nationwide law banning abortions and allow a 10-year-old girl allegedly raped by her stepfather to terminate her pregnancy.

The girl, who is five months pregnant, was taken to a hospital April 21 complaining of abdominal pain. She was found to be 22 weeks into the pregnancy.

When she learned the news, the girl’s mother requested an abortion for her child but was denied the procedure by the government. In Paraguay, abortion is illegal in all cases except when the mother’s life in danger.

A former health minister argues that’s exactly the case here. Esperanza Martinez said officials’ focus on whether the girl is physically able to bear a child overlooks the girl’s mental and physical well-being.

Gilberto Benitez Zarate, accused of raping his 10-year-old stepdaughter is hounded by the press after being arrested on May 9, 2015 in Asuncion. Benitez, who had been on the run for the past 15 days, was arrested in Caazapá, 300km southeast of the capital. The 10-year-old girl who was allegedly raped by her stepfather and is now five months pregnant has become the focal point of a wrenching debate over abortion and child abuse in this conservative Catholic country. (Photo: NORBERTO DUARTE/AFP/Getty Images)

Gilberto Benitez Zarate, accused of raping his 10-year-old stepdaughter is hounded by the press after being arrested on May 9, 2015 in Asuncion. Benitez, who had been on the run for the past 15 days, was arrested in Caazapá, 300km southeast of the capital. The 10-year-old girl who was allegedly raped by her stepfather and is now five months pregnant has become the focal point of a wrenching debate over abortion and child abuse in this conservative Catholic country. (Photo: NORBERTO DUARTE/AFP/Getty Images)

“This girl became a uterus,” Martinez said. “She became a birth canal.”

United Nations human rights experts on Monday said the South American nation has failed to protect the young victim. In a statement, the four experts said the government has refused to provide treatment to save the life of the girl, “including safe and therapeutic abortion in a timely manner.”

Amnesty International also has called on the nation to allow the girl to have an abortion. The organization last week made a request to Paraguay’s Health Ministry and Justice Department.

The case set off a national debate in Paraguay, where a leading churchman said “the country is divided in two” over the little girl’s pregnancy.

Msgr. Claudio Gimenez said in Sunday’s homily that, in his words, “Some want to legalize abortion, the killing of an innocent who still is in a period of gestation.”

Police had suspected the girl’s stepfather of raping and impregnating her. Gilberto Benitez Zarate fled two weeks ago but was captured Saturday in the city of Caazapa, about 125 miles southeast of the capital Asuncion, authorities said. Local media have quoted the man as denying guilt.

Domestic abuse makes young pregnancies a significant problem in the conservative Catholic nation. According to health statistics, 680 Paraguayan girls between 10 and 14 years old gave birth in 2014.

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