Justice Samir Dave of the Gujarat High Court on Thursday quoted the ancient Sanskrit legal text Manusmriti to support his contention that girls used to get married at the age of 14 or 15 and would often deliver a baby by the age of 17. He made the remark orally while hearing a plea seeking the termination of a seven month pregnancy by a minor rape survivor.
The court directed the Rajkot Civil Hospital to examine the minor girl first before taking any decision on the termination of the pregnancy. The court will decide whether to allow medical termination after a report by a panel of doctors from the hospital. The next date for hearing is June 15.
Earlier, while hearing the case, Justice Dave remarked, “In the older times, it was normal for girls to get married by 14-15 years of age and to have a child before the age of 17... You will not read it, but do read Manusmriti once for this.”
Health is deciding factor
Justice Dave also hinted that if the girl and the fetus were healthy, then the court may not allow the medical termination.
“The court can consider [allowing abortion] if any serious ailments are found in the fetus or the girl. But if both are normal, it will be very difficult for the court to pass such an order,’‘ the judge said.
Moreover, the court directed that doctors should also carry out an ossification test — meant to determine age — on the minor girl, while a psychiatrist should ascertain her mental condition.
Justice Dave asked the hospital to submit its reports by June 15, the next date of hearing.
‘Start looking for options’
He also offered a few words of advice to the lawyer appearing for the 17-year-old girl’s father, who is the petitioner. Justice Dave told the lawyer to start looking for options in case the medical opinion was not in favour of allowing the termination of the pregnancy or abortion of the fetus.
“I will not give permission if both are found healthy. The weight of the fetus is also good… What will you do if the girl gives birth and the child lives? Who will take care of that child? I will also inquire if there are government schemes for such children. You should also check if someone can adopt that child,” he said during the hearing.
The 17-year-old rape survivor’s father moved the High Court seeking permission for termination as the pregnancy had crossed the 24-week threshold up to which abortion can be performed without a direction from the court.