Forced/Coerced Sterilization

Created September 2011

Forced/coerced sterilization is the process of surgically removing or disabling an individual’s reproductive organs without their full and informed consent. It is frequently conducted through deceit, threat, or bribery. Forced and coerced sterilization is a gross violation of human rights but continues to be implemented in many countries throughout the world. Although the procedure is performed on both men and women, women are much more frequently victimized because of vulnerable, gender-specific situations such as childbirth which make women more susceptible to unwanted procedures.[1] Marginalized communities are most commonly targeted for sterilization campaigns since they are less protected.[2]

There have been widespread campaigns of forced sterilization throughout history and across the world. The eugenics-driven sterilization program in Nazi Germany is well known, but the United States also had a lesser-known eugenics program which sterilized around 60,000 mentally ill and marginalized people during the early twentieth century, with some states continuing the practice into the 1970s.[3]


Forced sterilization continues to occur on a smaller and less publicized scale. Some recent accounts of forced and coerced sterilization have occurred in Eastern Europe, Peru, and China. The Roma people of Eastern Europe and the indigenous people of Peru are victims of forced sterilization based on ethnic and racial discrimination. The Roma have long been the target of discrimination and were deemed an “undesirable” group during the communist era, which warranted and encouraged the sterilization of the ethnic group.[4] Czechoslovakia outlawed the practice in 1990 but reports of sterilization still persist at alarming rates in the successor countries of Slovakia and the Czech Republic.[5] Many of the Roma women are illiterate and are coerced into the sterilization procedure through misinformation or threatening statements by medical professionals.[6] In Peru, a mass government-run sterilization campaign was conducted in the 1990s in attempt to control population growth. Rural, uneducated, indigenous women were specifically targeted because they have higher birth rates.[7]


China also implements a forced and coerced sterilization program in an attempt to control its population. China started a “one-child policy” in 1979 and has constructed a penalty and reward system for those who violate or oblige the policy.[8] One method of enforcing the policy is to sterilize women after their first child or if they have had more than one child. In 2010, Chinese health officials planned to sterilize 10,000 people and detained family members until individuals consented to the procedure.[9]

[1] “Reproductive Rights Violations as Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: A critical Human Rights Analysis”, Center for Reproductive Rights, 2010.

[2] Ibid.,  p. 19

[3] “Eugenics: compulsory Sterilization in 50 American States”, University of Vermont, (2011).

[4] Tomasovic, Elizabeth. “Robbed of Reproductive Justice: The Necessity of a Global Initiative to Provide Redress to Roma Women Coercively Sterilized in Eastern Europe” The Columbia Human Rights Law Review, 2010. p. 766 

[5] Ibid.  p, 766

[6]“Body and Soul: Forced Sterilization and Other Assaults on Roma Reproductive Freedom in Slovakia”, Center for Reproductive Rights, 2003. p. 14

[7] Schmidt, Brita. “Forced Sterilization in Peru”, Committee on Women, Population, and the Environment, 1998

[8] Susan Short, Ma Linmao, Yu Wentao, “Brith Planning and sterilization in China” Taylor and Francis, vol. 54 no. 3, 2000. p. 279

[9]China to Sterilise 10,000 to Curb Births” Sky News, 23 April 2010.