NY Travel Clinic

Namibia: Supreme Court Ruling Against Forced Sterilizations of HIV-Positive Women

Namibia Finds for Women Subjected to Compulsory Sterilization

In November 2014 Namibia’s Supreme Court ruled the government violated the rights of three HIV-positive females when it ordered them sterilized without consent during caesarean deliveries.

The court acknowledged in its response that none of the women gave ‘informed consent’ as they were in differing stages of labor and may not have fully understood the results of giving consent to being sterilized.

The court had confirmed the practice was coercive. The Namibian Women’s Health Network ((NWHN) and Southern Africa Litigation Center (SALC) have supported the women during their long legal fight.

Now required is for the high court to assess the damages which will determine each of the women’s compensation. There are apt to be more cases to come.

Dr. Marina Gafanovich welcomed the court’s decision but pointed out the three cases were just the beginning.

“We have documented dozens of cases where other HIV-positive women have been forcibly sterilized. The government should take prompt and active steps ensuring all women falling prey to this illegal practice gets her day in court,” Mallet said.

SALC director Priti Patel believes the ruling will affect other African nations.

“This decision is a clear message that African governments must take steps to end this practice,” Patel said.

American Sterilization

Women in America have been subjected to coordinated efforts to control fertility including forced sterilization. The women’s movement of the 1960s and concerns about women’s reproductive rights focused into action.

A 1965 Puerto Rican survey found just over 30% of all Puerto Rican mothers, 20-49, were sterilized. The findings suggested to researchers that systemic bias included the practice and not only in Puerto Rico.

As early as 1907, America’s public policy handed the right to sterilize unwilling people to the government. Law 116 and similar laws, were passed in thirty states. Some, including North Carolina, set up Eugenics Boards which remained active until the 1970s.

As the public became aware of abuses, calls for action increased. In 1974, the Department of Health Education and Welfare published guidelines for sterilizing procedures and set a moratorium on sterilizing women under 21 and other without the ability to provide consent.

A 72-hour waiting period was mandated.