The question of compulsory and coerced sterilization

The question of compulsory and coerced sterilization
Julia S

The coercion by healthcare providers to submit women to sterilization, a permanent and irreversible procedure, is still an issue today. Forced sterilization generally aims to achieve genetic “strength” and administer population control policies, infringing on fundamental human rights principles of autonomy and dignity (“The Right”). This issue often targets marginalized groups and, in some countries, is justified by law (“The Right”).

Protest against compulsory sterilization in the United States (Manjeshwar).

Women with disabilities, women living in poverty, women with HIV, marginalized or indigenous women, and transgender and intersex persons are the most frequent victims of this abusive practice (“Forced Sterilization”). They fall target based on presumptions, stereotypes, and discrimination. For example, the sterilization of disabled people derives from the pretense of their sexuality, meaning the assumption that they are asexual or sexually inactive. Involuntary sterilization of women living with HIV is caused by misinformation on the transmission of the infection. Transgender and intersex persons have also been forced to be subject to this procedure to obtain legal documents and their birth certificates (“Eliminating Forced”). Instances like this have occurred on the basis of discrimination throughout Canadian, Brazilian, and American history, with the halting of operations and compensation of victims occurring only in the 2000s. This has also been reported in Chile, the Czech Republic, the Dominican Republic, Hungary, India, Kenya, Mexico, Namibia, Slovakia, South Africa, Swaziland, Uzbekistan, and Venezuela (Patel). The lack of justification for a medical procedure that makes a person unable to reproduce without proper informed consent has consequentially garnered UN agencies’ focus on the matter.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has, in response, released a formal statement urging states to work towards “Eliminating forced, coercive and otherwise involuntary sterilization” (“The Right”). Furthermore, the statement acknowledged compulsory sterilization as a widely used method of contraception, reaffirming that, in this case, it is an agreeable procedure with the “full, free, and informed” consent of the patient. 

Consent, however, can often lose its validity depending on the measures taken for its collection. Several incentives or coercive tactics have been used to obtain an agreement for sterilization, such as offers of food, housing, money, physical punishments, threats, and fines, all clearly targeting the rights of marginalized individuals. Some governments have even rewarded medical professionals for fulfilling a quota of sterilizations, while those who fail have been threatened with unemployment. Women across the globe have also reported sterilization following cesarean sections, where consent forms are presented during painful labor and delivery. Accessible information in local languages is also lacking in some countries, challenging the aspect of “informed” consent. A universal agreement on the age of consent for this procedure has not been reached, and the UN recommend only that “irreversible invasive medical interventions should be postponed until a child is sufficiently mature to make an informed decision.” (“Eliminating Forced”). A hygienic and safe environment with proper aftercare is also essential for sterilization, yet it is not ensured without the appropriate measures and documentation (“Eliminating Forced”).

The UN has determined the necessary measures to establish sterilization as compulsory and in line with human rights. Agencies, in cooperation with the UN, formulated a list of mandatory information required to be presented to patients, which should be obligatory in all Member States. There are also new laws, regulations, and policies for both the patient and health professional to follow, which ensure health services, proper training, remedies, and redress for victims of coerced sterilization. Though the most recent statement released on the question of coerced sterilization does not condemn sterilization entirely, it emphasizes the principle of autonomy and suggests that “People should be able to choose and to refuse sterilization” (“Eliminating Forced”).



Works Cited

"Eliminating Forced, Coercive and Otherwise Involuntary Sterilization." United Nations, World Health Organization, 3 May 2014, Accessed 3 Oct. 2023.

An Interagency Statement. "Forced Sterilization as a Human Rights Violation: Recent Developments." International Justice Resource Center, 21 Mar. 2019, Accessed 3 Oct. 2023.

Manjeshwar, Sanjana. "America's Forgotten History of Forced Sterilization." 
Berkeley Political Review, 4 Nov. 2020, 
americas-forgotten-history-of-forced-sterilization/. Accessed 6 Nov. 2023.

Nathaniel. "Resisting Forced Sterilizations." The Freedom Archives Accessed 8 Nov. 2023.

Patel, Priti. "Forced sterilization of women as discrimination." Public Health Reviews, BioMedCentral, 14 July 2017, Accessed 5 Nov. 2023.

"The Right to Choose and Refuse Sterilization." United Nations Human Rights of the High Commissioner, World Health Organization, 6 June 2014, Accessed 3 Oct. 2023.