Forced or coerced sterilizations





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Forced and coerced sterilizations are grave violations of human rights and medical ethics and constitute acts of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, as recognized by Human Rights Bodies. Nevertheless, women across the globe have been forced or coerced by medical personnel to submit to permanent and irreversible sterilization procedures. Despite condemnation from the Human Rights bodies, cases of forced and coerced sterilization have been reported all over the world.

Forced sterilization, a coercive contraceptive method, which involves surgically removing or disabling reproductive organs without full or informed consent, is a clear violation of bodily integrity, privacy and and bodly autonomy, and when endorse by the State, it constitutes institutional violence. According to Radhika Coomaraswamy, former UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, “forced sterilization is a method of medical control…essentially involving the battery of a woman – violating her physical integrity and security, forced sterilization constitutes violence against women.”[1]

Manipulating a woman’s body against her will, removes her agency to make choices about her body, including the number of children she will have; and is a violation of fundamental rights, including the right to health, which is supposed to be protected by international treaties and instruments.[2]

Discriminatory practices are central to forced and coerced sterilization, and often prescribed to young women living with HIV/AIDS, gender non-conforming women, young women and girls with disabilities and traditionally marginalized groups such as indigenous women and Roma women (among others).

Throughout the 20th century, women’s sterilization was the chosen method for population control in a considerable number of countries.[3]  The victims of coerced sterilization count in hundreds of thousands.  During this period,laws permitting and encouraging coercive sterilization were passed in many countries, including Germany, Japan and the United States of America. Many hundreds of thousands of people, particularly those with disabilities or from ethnic, religious and other minorities,were sterilized without their consent.[4]

Some groups, such as transgender and intersex persons, also have a long history of discrimination and abuse related to sterilization, which continues to this day. Such violations are reflected, for example, in the various legal and medical requirements, including for sterilization, to which transgender and intersex persons have been subjected in order to obtain birth certificates and other legal documents that match their preferred gender.[5]

Forcefully or coercively ending a woman’s reproductive capacity leads to a number of dire consequences such as extreme social isolation, family discord or abandonment, fear of medical professionals,  and lifelong grief. The fact that women have to endure this type of violence upon their bodies through practices endorsed and perpetrated by the State is a clear example of institutional violence linked to the sexual and reproductive rights of women.


Key figures by countries


In Peru, during the presidency of Alberto Fukimori a new reproductive health and family planning programme was introduced. It was promoted as a means of providing good reproductive healthcare, with access to birth control that included voluntary sterilisation. But in reality, sterilisation was often promoted aggressively in impoverished, rural and indigenous communities.  Consent was often manipulated or not obtained, and there are accounts of people being coerced, forced by medical staff, or sterilised without their knowledge while in hospital for another procedure. By 2000, over 300,000 women and 20,000 men had undergone sterilisation. In January 2014, the latest legal investigation was dismissed. Lawyers representing sterilised groups are now mounting an appeal to prove that human rights violations did take place.[6]

United States:

In the United States, more than half of the states had some form of eugenics law—some lasting as recently as the 1970s. [7] Compulsory sterilization laws were adopted by over 30 states that led to more than 60,000 sterilizations of people with dissabilities.[8] According to Shanzeh Khurram, “at least 148 women at the California Institution for Women in Corona and Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla received a surgical procedure for permanent sterilization.” Despite the fact that the practice is illegal, inmates were coerced into these invasive procedures by doctors who failed to explain the medical intricacies of the surgeries they were about to undergo.[9]


In certain parts of India “sterilization camps” continue to be a practice, as part of the government mandated family planning program. The case in 2014 when 11 women died after undergoing sterilisations at a government-run health camp in the central state of Chhattisgarh[10] is a stark example of unconcealed disregard for medical standards and informed consent. Poor, illiterate women are being rushed through the consent procedure. Often times, women are only informed about sterilization and no other possible long-term methods of family planning.  There are reports of a new Indian government program which pays private sector physicians per sterilization perfomed, which in turns creates a powerful incentive to coerce sterilization.[11] Women living with disabilities are a target group for forced medical procedures including sterilization without consent. Medical professionals often do not seek informed consent from people living with disabilities because of the erronous belief that they do not have the right to refuse medical procedures or a self-imposed projection that they should not have children, or that people with disabilities do not have the capacity to understand the procedures and the consequenses.A survey conducted in India among women with disabilities revealed that six percent had been forcibly sterilized.


In Namibia, a country with a significant prevalence of HIV/AIDS cases, the high court sentenced the State for the forced sterilization of three HIV-positive women. In each of the three cases, the women were told that sterilization was a requirement for labour, thereby coercing their consent. While the court was unable to link the abuses to HIV-discrimination, between 2008-2012 the Legal Assistance Center, a Namibian public interest law firm, documented 15 cases of women with HIV who were forcibly sterilized. The International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (ICW) further documents 40 cases in its 2009 report on The Forced and Coerced Sterilization of HIV Positive Women in Namibia.


According to the 2010 Human Rights Report of Uzbekistan, there are many reports of forced sterilizations of women along with allegations of the government pressuring doctors to sterilize with the purpose of population control. There are reports of quotas per doctor that they must reach every month. Few affected women are willing to speak out of fear of retribution. Even so, a number of women report to have been asked for a “sterilization certificate” in order to obtain employment.

Around the world:

HIV positive women are another group prone to forced sterilizations. Such practices have been documented in Chile, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Namibia, South Africa and Venezuela. Anecdotal reports indicate that forced sterilization of HIV-positive women is happening all over the world.[12] In Namibia and South Africa, women report being pushed to sign consent forms without explanation while they were already in labor and being wheeled to the operating theater where a surgery would be performed on them. In a similar fashion in Chile HIV-positive women report to have been sterilized without consent during routine Cesarian sections.[13]



[2] TtHO, er, M. lization camps in India,constitutes institutional violencehe International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 7); the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Articles 10h, 12, 16e, Gen. Rec. 19); and the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action (Women and Health par., 94). And within the confines of a systematic or widespread attack, the Rome Statute, which specifically identifies forced sterilization as a crime against humanity.

[3] Conelly, Mathey, Fatal Misconception, The Struggle to Control World Population, Harvard University Press, 2010,

[4] WHO, Eliminating forced, coercive and otherwise involuntary sterilization – An interagency statement, (pages 45-52)

[5] Idem (pages 15,16,63).

[6] Project working on the case of Peru’s forced sterilizations,

[7] WHO, Eliminating forced, coercive and otherwise involuntary sterilization – An interagency statement,

[8] Eugenics: Compulsory Sterilization in 50 American States,

[9]  Female inmates sterilized in California prisons without approval,

[10] Forced sterilization camps in India,

[11] Minkler, M. “Thinking the unthinkable”: the prospect of compulsory sterilization in India.

[12]  World Health Organisation (WHO) “Eliminating forced, coercive andotherwise involuntarysterilization”, an interagecny statement ,

[13] Against Her Will,