HC Expresses Disapproval on Non-Compliance of Directions on Pregnancy Termination of Minor Victims of Sexual Assault by Doctors, Police

The Delhi High Court has expressed “strong disapproval” on the non-compliance of its directions by doctors and police on medical termination of pregnancy of victims of sexual assault and said such lapses by the authorities can adversely affect the physical well-being of minors.

Dealing with a case of a minor who got pregnant after being sexually assaulted and sought to undergo medical termination of her 25-week pregnancy, the high court passed certain guidelines and directions in January to ensure that precious time for medical termination of pregnancy of rape victims is not lost in the process of seeking a court’s directions for constituting a medical board and thereafter, issuance of orders for the process.

Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma said the directions were passed keeping in mind that every day, every hour, every minute of such pregnancy, which is a result of a sexual assault, is not only traumatic and affects the psychological health of a victim and her family, but is also critical for her physical health and welfare, in case the termination of pregnancy is to take place.

On Friday, dealing with the case of a 16-year-old girl who got pregnant due to a sexual assault and approached the court seeking termination of her 25-week pregnancy, which is beyond the permissible limit of 24 weeks, the court unequivocally directed that in the future, such a lapse on the part of authorities will be treated seriously as it can adversely affect the physical well-being of the victim and each passing day poses a threat to the minor’s life and makes it difficult to medically terminate her pregnancy.

The court was informed that when the victim’s family approached the Guru Teg Bahadur (GTB) Hospital here, doctors had refused to give an opinion regarding medical termination of pregnancy in the absence of a judicial order.

The court noted that in terms of its January directions, the hospital and doctors were duty-bound to give a medical opinion as to whether the minor victim of sexual assault was fit to undergo the process for medical termination of pregnancy.

The court noted with a “strong sense of disapproval and displeasure” that its judgment, in which guidelines and directions were issued regarding medical termination of pregnancy of rape victims, were shown to have been complied with on paper, but the reality revealed that those were not being followed either by police or the hospitals.

Considering the gravity of the situation, Justice Sharma directed that the minor victim be taken to the GTB Hospital on Saturday by police officials and the hospital superintendent shall ensure that she is examined by a medical board immediately.

In case the medical board opines that the victim is physically and mentally fit to undergo medical termination of pregnancy, the superintendent shall ensure that all necessary arrangements are made for carrying out the procedure, preferably within 24 hours.

“The doctors concerned shall also preserve the tissue of the foetus as the same may be necessary for DNA identification and other purposes, in reference to the criminal case which is registered against the accused by the petitioner/victim. The State shall bear all the expenses necessary for the termination of the pregnancy of the petitioner, her medicines and food,” the court said.

It said if the child is born alive, despite attempts at medical termination of the pregnancy, the superintendent of the hospital shall ensure that all necessary facilities are offered to the baby and the Child Welfare Committee concerned shall do the needful in accordance with law.

The hospital shall also file a compliance report before the court within 24 hours of conducting the procedure.

The court also made it clear that this time it was taking a lenient view and not initiating contempt action against the hospital for refusing medical opinion to the victim and the investigating officer for not producing her before the medical board.

It said a benefit is being given to all concerned that the directions issued earlier might not have been adequately brought to the notice of the authorities, including the investigating officers and all the hospitals in the national capital.

The court asked the Delhi police commissioner to ensure that its directions are circulated among all the station house officers (SHOs) and other police officials for necessary compliance.

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“The director, Delhi Police Academy shall ensure that the necessary information regarding this issue is incorporated in the training curriculum of the Delhi Police Academy. The secretaries of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of NCT of Delhi and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare of India shall ensure that the aforesaid directions are circulated in all the government as well as private hospitals in Delhi for necessary information and compliance.

“The secretary, Delhi State Legal Service Authority (DSLSA) is directed that necessary information regarding the directions issued by this court shall be made available and uploaded on the websites of DSLSA,” it said.

The court directed that its directions shall be complied with in letter and spirit and with utmost sensitivity towards the victims of sexual assault, who need to be assisted by a positive and sensitive approach and not with indifference and empty formality.

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