Roma Women Confront Czechs on Legacy of Forced Sterilization
Monday, June 19, 2006 3:50 PM

The Czech Republic and other former Communist bloc countries are under scrutiny regarding allegations that Gypsy, or Roma women are being sterilized without their knowledge. The Czech ombudsman, Otakar Motejl, began investigating claims in 2004 that Roma women and girls were being unwittingly sterilized after several individuals contacted him. The issue has been revived by a recent court case in which a Roma woman sued the hospital that sterilized her. The court did not award her compensation, but it demanded that the clinic issue a formal apology.

Though sterilization of Roma women was practiced regularly under communism in order to contain large Gypsy families, doctors in the Czech Republic maintain that today the procedure is performed only when the woman’s health will be endangered by further childbirth and with her consent. However, many Roma women who have been sterilized claim that they gave written consent without knowledge of what they were signing and were not aware of what was happening to them until after the procedure. As a result of such stories, victims’ advocates claim that the practice is actually rooted in deep-seated European prejudice towards Roma people.

Ombudsman Motejl has indicated that the sterilization of Roma women is indeed often carried out under false pretenses if not entirely illegally and he has called on the Czech government to address the issue. He advocates for the codification of informed consent for sterilization in law and a time frame for women to make thoughtful decisions. Doctors, for their part, should be more forthcoming on the issue. He also recommended that the Health Ministry publish a clear description of sterilization and its effects.

Compiled from: Karel Janicek, "Gypsy Women Confront Czechs on Ugly Legacy," Seattle Post,, 17 June 2006.