Tribal law affects case of 10-year-old mother

Apr 10, 2012, 7:03 PM

Associated Press

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) – Colombian authorities said Tuesday that they’ve been frustrated in their attempts to file criminal charges against the young father of a baby born two weeks ago to a 10-year-old ethnic Wayuu girl.

That’s because the Wayuu people have their own justice system and rarely cooperate with agents of the Colombian state in such matters, said Maria Gladys Pabon, chief prosecutor in Riohacha, the regional capital.

Under Colombian law, any sexual relations with a child age 14 or younger is a crime punishable by at least nine years in prison.

But legal and indigenous affairs experts say that under Colombia’s 1991 constitution the Wayuu have jurisdiction.

The girl, who cannot be identified by law, gave birth on March 29 via Caesarean section and is one of the youngest mothers on record.

The father, who authorities say is 15, also cannot be identified.

The baby weighed 5.6 pounds (2.6 kilos) and measured 14.5 inches (47 centimeters), said Dr. Fabio Gonzalez, who delivered the child in a private clinic in Riohacha, on the Guajira peninsula in Colombia’s northeast coast.

“She barely understood what was happening” at the moment of birth, Gonzalez told The Associated Press by phone. He said he had to operate because at that age the pelvis is still growing “and it’s too small for the fetus to pass through the vaginal canal.”

He said the mother, who was discharged from the clinic in good health, is also relatively short at 4 feet, 7 inches (142 centimeters).

When nurses took the newborn to her mother “it was as if a doll was being given to her,” said Gonzalez. “She has no idea. She doesn’t understand anything and that’s normal,” he added.

The doctor said it was not the first time he had delivered the baby of a 10-year-old girl. He said he had a similar case last year.

In the latest case, the girl’s parents took her to the clinic from their hometown of Manuare.

A Wayuu tribal leader, Rosa Iguaran, told the AP that the parents were refusing to speak to the news media out of shame.

She said the incident was also painful for the Wayuu, who number about 350,000 and mostly live in the Colombia-Venezuela border region but that they don’t consider that the girl was raped but rather that the baby was conceived in consensual sex.

It will be up to the parents of both the boy and girl to decide whether the two should be married and what the boy’s family owes the girl’s family, whether it be “necklaces, cows, goats, whatever the family agrees on,” said Iguaran.

Pabon, the prosecutor, said the family of the girl has refused to cooperate with her in her investigation.

She said she would not seek to arrest the father of the newborn without speaking with Wayuu leaders.

Colombian constitutional law experts say such cases are always very complicated.

Former Constitutional Court magistrate Rodrigo Escobar told the AP that “what the Indians can’t do is submit a defendant to degrading treatment or the death penalty.”

The world’s youngest mother in a medically documented case was Lina Medina of Peru, who in 1939 produced an infant at the age of 5 years, 8 months, according to the Guinness Book of Records.

___

Associated Press writers Cesar Garcia and Vivian Sequera contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Tribal law affects case of 10-year-old mother