(Photo: Reuters/Ivan Alvarado)
An 11-year-old rape victim has garnered praise from Chile's president, Sebastian Pinera, after saying that she would be happy to keep her baby and shun abortion despite being 14 weeks pregnant through the sexual abuse inflicted upon her by her mother's partner.
President Pinera, whose government has opposed lifting the country's complete ban on abortion, even in cases of medical conditions, rape or incest, said in a statement that he is surprised by the girl's "depth and maturity."
"I've asked the health minister to personally look after the [girl's] health," Pinera recently told reporters, according to BBC News.
"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," Pinera added.
News of the girl's story broke last week, and on Monday, the 11-year-old, known to the public only as Belen, said in a television interview that she intended to keep and love the baby even though her pregnancy came through sexual abuse.
"I'm going to love the baby very much, even though it comes from that man who hurt me," Belen told local news station Canal 13, according to the Associated Press.
"It will be like having a doll in my arms," the girl added.
The fifth-grade victim reportedly endured rape and other sexual abuse by her mother's boyfriend for two years, and the story only came to light when the child's maternal grandmother contacted police in the city of Puerto Montt, located in the rural south of the country.
The boyfriend has since been arrested and has confessed to his abuse of the minor.
In a grim twist to the story, the girl's mother publicly defended her boyfriend, saying the sexual relations with her daughter were consensual, although Chilean law dictates that no sexual relations with a minor under the age of 14 can be consensual.
The case has re-ignited the abortion debate in the Latin American country, where a strict abortion ban has been in effect for the past four decades, since the new constitution was formed after Gen. Augusto Pinoche left office in 1989.
Pinera has long opposed the modification of the abortion ban, as in recent years the Senate Committee on Health has pushed multiple bills aimed at de-penalizing the abortion practice in certain cases.
The president has even penned a column in Chilean newspaper El Mercurio entitled "My Commitment to Life" in March 2012, in which he outlined his desire to keep a complete ban on all direct abortions in the country.
Pinera listed four reasons why he opposed abortion, including the personhood of the fetus, legal and practical considerations, and his religious convictions, according to LifeSite News.
"As a Christian I believe that life is a gift from God. Only he has the right to give life and the right to take it away. For that reason, I support protecting life and human dignity from conception to natural death. And for the same reason, I am also against euthanasia and the death penalty," Pinera wrote.
Many abortion opponents and supporters have spoken out in the case of Belen, either to offer their support for the girl's decision or to encourage the government to intervene and allow the girl an abortion due to her young age and the fact that the pregnancy is high-risk.
Felipe Guevara, president of "Siempre por la Vida," or "Always for Life," a national pro-life organization, told Chilevision that although the group denounces what happened to Belen, they do not believe abortion is the solution, and what the young girl needs most right now is her family and community.
"We denounce what has happened to her, and the truth is it is a very complicated case, but we are convinced that abortion is not the solution," Guevara said, as reported by The Santiago Times.
Others, including forensic psychologist Giorgio Agostini, told the Associated Press that the 11-year-old does not have the emotional or mental capacity to care for a child.
"At that age the girl doesn't have a capacity of discernment, not even at age 14 would she have the mental and emotional capacity to discern this," Agostini, who has reportedly worked on a number of child abuse cases, told the AP.
"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," Agostini said. "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."
Those opposing Chile's abortion law are calling for exceptions to be made in cases relating to rape or the health of the mother.
Chile is one of seven Latin American countries in which abortion is completely banned.