Created September 2011

Widespread eugenics programs may be a thing of the past, but forced sterilization continues to occur under other discriminatory and false rationalizations. Population control, racial and ethnic discrimination, and stigma toward HIV-positive or disabled people are all modern reasons behind forced and coerced sterilization of the 21st century.

China upholds a “one child” policy in order to control its vast population growth. One tactic used to enforce this policy is to sterilize the women after their first child has been born. There have been reports of holding family members hostage until the woman “consents” to sterilization. The government defends the forced sterilization campaigns by stating that there are many migrant women who do not understand the family planning restrictions. Children who are born outside of the regulated quota are not given residency registration documents and therefore do not have access to education and health care.[1] There have also been reports of a genocidal campaign to sterilize and force abortions among Tibetan women in order to reduce the growth of their oppressed population.

Starting during the communist era, the Roma people in Slovakia and the Czech Republic have long been a target population for forced sterilization. Officially the government ended the practice in 1990 but reports of involuntary sterilizations of Roma women continue.[2] In the fact finding mission done by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Poradňa pre občianske a ľudské práva, 110 women were interviewed who have been, or believe they have been, sterilized since the official end of the practice. Doctors unnecessarily perform c-sections on women and sterilize the patient after the baby has been delivered. Some of the women were given consent forms while they were in labor, and some signed the permission forms without being literate or under the impression of false medical information. Some were given consent forms after the procedure was finished, and others were not informed of the sterilization at all. The Roma women have been frequently denied free access to their medical records, which document the illegal procedure and would help the women in prosecuting their cases.[3]

The Government of Peru announced in 2011 that it would investigate and punish the perpetrators of a government-run “family planning campaign” that sterilized hundreds of thousands of indigenous women during the 1990s. The Peruvian government set quotas of sterilized women for health officials and rewarded those who achieved the quotas. Several women died from poorly-performed surgeries or from complications of unhygienic conditions in which the surgeries were performed.[4]

In South Africa, as HIV becomes a more treatable disease, many HIV-positive men and women wish to have children.[5] However, women who test positive for HIV are being sterilized without their consent during and after labor or other medical procedures. Similar cases have been documented in Zambia and Namibia. Many of these women understood the meaning of sterilization and signed consent but did not believe they had a choice.[6]

Women With Disabilities Australia submitted a statement to United Nations Special Rapporteur on the prevalence of non-therapeutic, forced sterilization performed on disabled young women and girls. The organization urges Australia to comply with the country’s ratification of several international human rights documents.[7]

[1] “Thousands at Risk of Forced Sterilization in China”, Amnesty International, (22 April 2010).

[2] 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).

[3] "Body and Soul: Forced Sterilization and Other Assaults on Roma Reproductive Freedom in Slovakia”, Center for Reproductive Rights, (2003).

[4] Angel Paez, “Humala Pledges Justice for Sterilisation Victims”, Inter Press Service News Agency (11 June 2011).  

[5] Joanne Mantell, Jennifer Smit and Zena Stein, “The right to choose parenthood among HIV-infected women and men”, Journal of Public Health Policy, Vol.30 No.4 (December 2009).

[6] “Southern Africa: More sterilization of HIV-positive women uncovered” IRIN, (30 August 2010).

[7] “Forced sterilisation of girls and women with disabilities in Australia”, Women with Disabilities Australia, (22 June 2011).