Outrage has erupted in Bolivia following the news of an 11-year-old girl who was raped and impregnated by her step-grandfather and is now being forced by the church to have the baby.

According to The Washington Post, the girl (whose name remains anonymous) was left to stay with her siblings and step-grandfather in Yapacani while her parents went to work in La Paz. It was there that the child endured months of rape at the hands of the man who was supposed to be her guardian.

The girl eventually confided in her cousin and described to her a feeling of something moving in her belly. The cousin subsequently alerted the young girl’s aunt.

When the aunt discovered that the girl was describing symptoms of pregnancy after being left alone for months with her step-grandfather, she reported the rape to officials, and the child was confirmed to be about 21 weeks pregnant.

According to Ana Paola García Villagomez, an advocate from the women’s rights group La Casa de la Mujer, the girl anxiously wanted to move on with her life and wanted to have what was inside of her removed (she’s too young to even understand what pregnancy means).

On October 22, 2021, the 11-year-old was brought to a local hospital, where she was being prepared for her abortion (Bolivian laws allow rape victims to have legal abortions).

However, the next day the mother arrived with a woman from an organization associated with the Catholic church and whisked the child away to a church-run shelter, claiming that the girl had “changed her mind.”

Since the child has been taken to the shelter, La Casa de la Mujer has been unable to reach the 11-year-old or her mother. It appears that this religious organization has silenced the girl and coerced her into undergoing a full-term pregnancy.

As an 11-year-old, the girl faces extreme health risks associated with adolescent childbirth.

According to the WHO, pregnant children between the ages of 10-19-years-old face significantly higher rates of eclampsia, puerperal endometritis, and infections compared to pregnant adults.

Additionally, the UNFPA reports that complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among adolescent girls around the world.

So not only is the Catholic organization intervening in the girl’s decision over her own life and body, but they are actively putting her at significant risk of additional mental, emotional, and physical harm.

A legal advisor to the Bolivian Bishops’ Conference has since responded to the incident and said,

“From the perspective of our faith, there is an absolute conviction that life must be protected. Even when there is a case of sexual abuse, even when the pregnancy is high, even when everything is unfavorable, the conviction is to protect and save this life under all circumstances.”

This comment certainly rings hollow considering the serious health risks and additional trauma that this religious organization is pushing upon a girl who clearly stated to health officials that she did not wish to be pregnant.

Unfortunately, the girl’s story is not unique. Bolivia has the highest rate of rape and sexual violence against adolescent girls in Latin America. According to the organization Equality Now, 1 in 3 girls in Bolivia experience some form of sexual violence before the age of 18.

Things have sadly only escalated during COVID lockdown. In 2020, Reuters reported on a 10-year-old who was impregnated and gang-raped by her cousins. Another girl, 15-years-old, was repeatedly raped for months by a cousin she lived with.

Fortunately for these girls, there is help available. Bolivian activist Brisa De Angulo, a survivor of adolescent rape herself, has started the organization A Breeze of Hope Foundation, which provides a safe hotline for rape and incest survivors. If you or someone you know is the victim of sexual violence, you can call A Breeze of Hope’s hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.

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