Our Perspectives

Women are still being forcibly or coercively sterilized, it's time to end the practice


A mother and child in DhakaA mom and her newborn baby at the Maternal & Child Health Training Institute for the medically needy in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo: Kibae Park/UN

Though voluntary sterilization is considered an important form of pregnancy prevention in many parts of the world, force or coercion should never be part of the equation.

However, there continue to be cases of women, people living with HIV, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities, or transgender and intersex persons who are sterilized without their full, free and informed consent.

Our report, “Protecting the right of key HIV-affected women and girls in healthcare settings” highlights the persistence of this practice amongst women and girls in Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Pakistan living with HIV, along with a range of other serious forms of abuse. 

These practices are not only discriminatory, they are also violations of fundamental human rights. As reported in 2012 by the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, coercive and discriminatory practices in health care settings are rife, including forced HIV testing, breaches of confidentiality and the denial of health care services, as well as forced sterilizations and abortions.

Voluntary sterilization is dependent upon a legal environment and social and health programmes, policies and practices that guarantee the rights of all individuals to free, full and informed consent. To this end, countries must prohibit the practice of forced abortion and coerced sterilization of women and girls living with HIV, as well as all other forms of violence against women and girls in health care settings.

In Namibia for example, a high court judgment in July 2012 ruled in favor of three women who claimed they had been sterilized without their informed consent. In South Africa, the Gauteng Health Department paid nearly 46734 USD in an out-of-court settlement to a 32-year-old HIV-positive woman for being coercively sterilized when she gave birth in 2009.

No UN agency is specifically responsible for addressing this form of violence against women. However, in June this year, UNDP joined the World Health Organization (WHO), UN Women, UNAIDS, UNICEF, the UNFPA and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to condemn forced, coercive and otherwise involuntary sterilization and to call for stricter guidelines to ensure that sterilizations are always conducted with full, free and informed decision-making. The collaborating agencies will work with governments and civil society to ensure that the normative guidelines are integrated into national sexual and reproductive health and rights programmes and policies.  

We need to recognize that forced and coerced sterilization is a form of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, as well as a violation of basic human rights. 

The time to end the practice is now.

Human rights LGBTI Sexual and gender-based violence Women's empowerment HIV AIDS

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