Enforced Sterilization of Romany Women
Monday, January 23, 2006 2:30 PM

Some time ago Helena Ferencikova, a Romany woman, claimed she had been forced to undergo sterilization. Her case set off many more complaints from Romany mothers who said they'd received similar treatment. Many of them wrote to the Ombudsman Otakar Motejl for help and several have since taken their case to court. As the complaints piled up the Ombudsman's Office launched its own investigation into the matter. Its conclusion was shocking: the Ombudsman said his office had collected sufficient evidence to suggest that at least 50 Romany women living in the Czech Republic and formerly communist Czechoslovakia, were forcibly sterilized in the years between 1979 and 2001.

The first court ruling on enforced sterilization was awaited with anticipation since it was expected to set an important precedent. Helena Ferencikova from Ostrava won her case and the court ruled that the maternity hospital in question should acknowledge malpractice and apologize to her. Mrs. Ferencikova says this is not enough, and is demanding a million crowns in compensation. Several other women have followed her example and the enforced sterilization suits will be settled on a case-by-case basis. Roma rights advocates think there should be a blanket form of compensation for all Roma women who can prove their case.

By far the most disturbing aspect of this story is that there are some who suggest the practice of enforced sterilizations may not have been completely eradicated. According to Jaroslav Fajrajzl, the head of the Podoli Maternity Hospital, the currently valid law, which dates back to the 1970s, stipulates that doctors can perform sterilization for health reasons or at a patient's request. Dr. Fajrajzl says that possibly the most controversial part of the law - and one that relates to the Roma cases - is the recommendation that sterilization is advisable for health reasons following a second or third Caesarian section. The thirty year old law on health care is about to be amended. Meanwhile, the Ombudsman's Office has put forward a series of recommendations as regards sterilizations. They are that: a woman should have at least seven days to make up her mind whether or not to undergo sterilization and that the hospital should provide an easy-to-understand brochure which explains the procedure and all its implications.

Published in: Romany Women Report Cases of Enforced Sterilization, Daniela Lazarova, Radio Prague, 13 January 2006.

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