Lack of harmonisation of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 with those meant to protect children from sexual abuse has put gynaecologists in a fix.
The abortion law guarantees absolute confidentiality to a woman irrespective of her age, while the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 and the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013 — put in place after the horrific gang-rape of the 23-year-old girl in Delhi last year — make it mandatory for the hospitals, local bodies or individuals, to report any kind of offence or even a suspicion of offence in the case of a minor.
The problem arises when a woman, below the age of 18 years seeks an abortion. Under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 she has a legal right to seek abortion but the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 and the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013 criminalises sex below the age of 18 years even if it is consensual, thereby it is presumed pregnancy is a result of rape.
“There needs to be more clarity on the issue. We have had some cases recently where abortion conducted on girls below the age of 18 years became an issue and doctors were harassed by police for not reporting as these amounted to rape,” Nozer Sheriar, secretary general of the Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India told The Hindu.
It is still an urban phenomenon where adolescents have access to health facilities but could become a major issue in the coming years if not addressed immediately, Dr. Sheriar said.
Women’s groups and child rights activists shared similar apprehensions and said ambiguity left laws to individual interpretations. “Attention needs to be drawn to the poor access to safe abortions and its consequences on women’s health and rights, particularly on unmarried adolescents and women, in general face in accessing safe services. If confusing laws deny access to safe abortions, adolescents will go for unsafe procedures which is harmful for women’s health,” explained V.S. Chandrashekhar, an independent consultant on women’s health. Twenty-two per cent of India’s population comprises young adolescents.
Doctors want the Centre to come out with some directions on the matter to end confusion and allay fears.
Under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Regulations, 2003 “Admission register is a secret document and the information contained therein as to the name and other particulars of the pregnant women shall not be disclosed to any person.”
Officials in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said abortion was being provided as an assertion of reproductive rights of a woman not to carry an unwanted pregnancy or a foetus likely to have abnormalities. Concurring with gynaecologists, child rights activist Enakshi Ganguly of HAQ said there were any number of cases in the Juvenile Justice Board where consensual sex became rape because the girls were younger than 18 years. “It is strange that child marriage is accepted though the legal age of marriage is 18 years and sex for child bride is fine,” she said.