The furor over the nine-year-old who had twins aborted after allegations that her stepfather raped her has focused media attention what appears to be a tragedy of broader scope--the numbers of children sexually abused in Brazil.
Over the weekend, the New York Times ran an article by Alexei Barrionuevo that highlighted the larger problem.
The writer begins his story in a clinic that treats young victims of sexual abuse. It's fair to expect that perhaps Barrioneuvo will take a look at the strategies used to treat victims, and perhaps even punish perpetrators. But that's not where he takes the story.
After describing the girl and her circumstances, and the reaction of the local and international Catholic officials, Barrioneuvo looks at the larger connection between sexual abuse of girls and abortion in Brazil.
The case has brought to light other instances of young girls being raped and impregnated by family members, especially in the poorer northeastern region.
The number of legal abortions of girls ages 10 to 14 more than doubled last year to 49, up from 22 in 2007, the Ministry of Health reported. That was out of 3,050 legal abortions performed last year in a country of more than 190 million. But the vast majority of Brazil's abortions are not legal. The Ministry of Health estimates about one million unsafe or clandestine abortions every year.
Brazil's abortion laws are among the strictest in Latin America.
What's going on here is very interesting. You have two hot-button social issues: sexual abuse of girls and abortion (the article doesn't address whether boys are also being abused). By connecting them early in his article the writer appears to choose not to look at an even broader question: what are religious instutions, the government and social service agencies doing or not doing to address the problems that underly sexual abuse?
Here's a quote that illustrates the way the author seems to situate the problem :
Twenty years ago, Brazil had just one center to perform abortions. Today, beyond the 55 clinics that can perform them, another 400 or so treat patients that have been sexually abused.
"It's still not enough," said Beatriz Galli, a policy associate and human rights lawyer with Ipas, an organization pushing to expand women's reproductive rights. Most state-financed clinics are in capitals that can be as far as an 11-hour boat ride away, and they are concentrated in the wealthier southeast region.
Readers hear about anti-abortion legislators fighting to tighten abortion restrictions and doctors who argue that often abortions are neccessary to save the life of the young girl. We get a few quotes that even deal with the way some Brazilians are alleged to view women in general: as "property." But what's missing is the larger perspective. Are social attitudes towards women changing? Are stricter reporting laws to protect children being enacted? Where do social service dollars go? What are Roman Catholic clergy saying about the status of women in Brazil? Where does the church find itself in the dialogue about how to help abuse victims?
Barrioneuvo quotes church officials on the abortion issue, but he doesn't quote anyone religious discussing the social implications of sexual abuse of girls and the general status of women-and what the church may or may not being doing to address the root causes.
Wherever readers may stand on the spectrum of opinions about abortion there are many other factors to the sexual abuse of girls that aren't addressed here, leaving a disturbing implication that providing more abortion clinics will alleviate the problem. I have no sense for what the writer intended, but there isn't a whole lot of other information here to go on.
The picture of the Catedralse in Sao Paulo, Brazil is from Wikimedia Commons