The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday condemned Poland for the inhumane and degrading treatment of a 14-year-old rape victim whom the authorities tried to stop having an abortion.
The girl’s right to a private and family life had been flouted in 2008, the court ruled, saying she had been arbitrarily detained after being briefly placed in a home to separate her from her mother, who favoured an abortion.
“The court was particularly struck that the authorities started criminal proceedings for illicit sexual relations against the adolescent who, according to the prosecutor and medical reports, should have been considered the victim of sexual abuse,” the Strasbourg judges said in their verdict.
It said that Poland had violated article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights – “prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment”.
A staunchly Catholic country, Poland’s legislation on abortion is amongst the strictest in Europe and the Strasbourg court has already twice condemned it for failing to ensure the law on the subject is respected.
The hospitals in the southeastern city of Lublin did everything to dissuade the girl from having an abortion, sending her to see a priest before refusing to carry out the operation. Officials alerted local media to the story, prompting harassment of the girl by anti-abortion campaigners.
The abortion was finally carried out by a hospital in the northern port city of Gdansk, some 500km from the girl’s home.
In its ruling, the court said the case highlighted the huge gap in Poland between the statute book - which should have allowed the girl an abortion under a 1993 family planning law - and how doctors and local officials behave.
Although the case against the girl for illegal sexual relations was eventually dropped, so was the one against her alleged rapist, the court said.
The court, which has jurisdiction in the 47 countries of the Council of Europe and is not part of the European Union, awarded the girl 30,000 euros in damages and her mother 15,000 euros.