SANTIAGO, Chile – The case of a pregnant 11-year-old girl who was raped in Chile by her mother’s partner has set off a national debate about abortion in one of the most socially-conservative countries in Latin America.
Chileans were outraged on Friday after state TV reported that the child is 14 weeks pregnant and was raped repeatedly over two years.
Police in the remote southern city of Puerto Montt arrested her mother’s partner, who reportedly confessed to abusing the fifth grader.
The case was brought to their attention by the pregnant child’s maternal grandmother.
Doctors say the girl’s life and that of the fetus are at high risk. But in Chile, ending the pregnancy is not an option.
Chile allowed abortions for medical reasons until they were outlawed in 1973 by Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. The current government of conservative President Sebastian Pinera has opposed any loosening of the prohibition.
Many Chileans vented outrage on social media Friday. Some started an online campaign to demand legalization of abortion in cases of rape or health risks for the mother.
“When I heard about this little girl my first reaction was to support abortion because I think it’s the best option in this case,” said Eduardo Hernandez, a 30-year-old web designer.
“It’s the first online petition I’ve signed in my life, but I think this case really deserves it,” Hernandez said. “We should have a law. I hope this case serves as precedent to have a serious discussion about abortion.”
The Chilean Senate rejected three bills last year that would have eased the absolute ban on abortions.
One of the bills would have permitted abortion if two doctors agreed it was needed because of risks to a mother’s life or other medical reasons, such as a fetus with low chances of survival.
Another one of the measures that was rejected would have allowed abortion in the event of rape.
Forty years after a military dictatorship, Chile remains firmly conservative in social matters. It legalized divorce for the first time in 2004.
“Chile is a country that has modernized when it comes to its economy, but when it comes to its social and political culture, it has become stagnant and this is seen with the abortion issue,” said Marta Lagos, head of the Santiago-based pollster Mori.
The Roman Catholic Church retains a strong influence over society, although it has lost credibility since 2010, when four men alleged that they were abused by one of Chile’s most revered priests when they were between 14 and 17 years old.
Pinera announced measures last year to combat child abuse, toughening penalties on convicted pedophiles, increasing the forensic institute’s budget and creating a children’s ombudsman to protect their rights.