Amid Abuse, Brazil’s Abortion Debate Flares

By Alexei Barrioneuvo

Read this for background.

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — The waiting room at Pérola Byington Hospital resembles a small day care center many days. Young girls play on the cold tile floors or rock hyperactively in plastic chairs, while their mothers stare pensively at the red digital readout on a wall, signaling their place in line.

But this is a women’s health clinic specializing in treating victims of sexual violence. Of the 15 such cases the hospital averages each day, nearly half involve children under 12.

While much of Brazil has been riled by the case of a 9-year-old girl who aborted twins this month after claiming her stepfather raped her, her ordeal was an all too familiar one at the clinic.

The girl’s story of rape and pregnancy at such a young age seemingly caught the nation off guard, reviving a tense debate over reproductive rights in a country with more Catholics than any other. But doctors, clinic workers and other experts say her case is symptomatic of a widespread problem of sexual abuse of under-age girls — one that has long been neglected and may be getting worse.

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