Chile’s President praised an 11-year-old girl on Tuesday for her “depth and maturity” after she said in a recent TV interview that she wants to give birth to the baby who was conceived when she was raped by her mother’s partner.

President Sebastian Pinera’s comments caused anger on social media in a case that has ignited a heated national debate over abortion in one of Latin America’s most socially-conservative nations. Abortions, even for medical reasons and in the case of rape, are illegal. Mr. Pinera’s government has opposed any easing of the ban.

“I’ve asked the Health Minister to personally look after the [girl’s] health,” said Mr. Pinera. “She’s 14 weeks pregnant, and yesterday she surprised us all with words showing depth and maturity, when she said that, despite the pain caused by the man who raped her, she wanted to have and take care of her baby.”

The girl was repeatedly raped over the course of two years by her mother’s partner who has been arrested and has confessed to abusing the fifth grader. Her mother shocked Chileans recently when she defended him saying his relationship was consensual. “It will be like having a doll in my arms,” the girl told local televison channel. “I’m going to love the baby very much, even though it comes from that man who hurt me.”

Chile legalised divorce in 2004, becoming one of the last in the world to grant married couples that right. The Senate rejected three bills last year that would have eased the ban on abortion.

Experts say the girl’s life is at risk and that she is not prepared to take a decision about her pregnancy.

“It’s very likely that she is saying that she wants to have the baby like a living doll. We’ve seen this in other investigations,” said Giorgio Agostini, a forensic psychologist who has worked on dozens of child sex abuse cases. “So what the President is saying doesn’t get close to the psychological truth of an 11-year-old-girl. It’s a subjective view that is not based on any scientific reasoning to support it.”

Former President Michelle Bachelet, frontrunner in the November 17 presidential elections, favours legalising abortion in cases of rape or risks to the health of the pregnant woman or the child.

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