Romany women report cases of enforced sterilization|
Some time ago Helena Ferencikova, a Romany woman, claimed she had been
forced to undergo sterilization during the communist days because the
regime did not want the Roma population expanding. Her case set off many
more complaints from Romany mothers who said they'd received similar
treatment. Many of them wrote to the Ombudsman Otakar Motejl for help and
several have since taken their case to court.
As the complaints piled up the Ombudsman's Office launched its own
investigation into the matter. Its conclusion was shocking: the Ombudsman
said his office had collected sufficient evidence to suggest that at least
50 Romany women living in the Czech Republic and formerly communist
Czechoslovakia, were forcibly sterilized in the years between 1979 and
2001. Kumar Vishwanathan has been working for several years to mediate
between Roma and the authorities. He explains what went on:
"During the process of childbirth they were given a paper to sign
saying that they consent to a C-section and, at the same time, to
sterilization. In some cases the women were informed that they were going
to be sterilized and that they had to sign a paper and the women signed
it, but they didn't have any time to think over things, to discuss it with
their partners. Some of the women thought it was a temporary arrangement,
something like an intra-uterine device, that it was reversible. They never
thought in terms that they would never ever have any more children."
This means of controlling the Romany population was allegedly done on the
grounds of a communist directive that remained in force up until 1991 -
that is two years after the fall of communism. Social workers were
actively involved in the practice. Kumar Vishwanathan again:
"The social workers would come to the hospital and get the women to
sign, the social workers would threaten the families that if the woman
didn't get sterilized they would take away their money /social benefits/.
During the communist regime the Czechoslovak government had a programme, a
law, for the control of the Roma population. It was a eugenically motivated
law and the monetary incentive was part of the communist government's plan
to limit the Roma population."
The first court ruling on enforced sterilization was awaited with
anticipation since it was expected to set an important precedent. Helena
Ferencikova from Ostrava won her case and the court ruled that the
maternity hospital in question should acknowledge malpractice and
apologize to her. Mrs. Ferencikova says this is not enough, and is
demanding a million crowns in compensation.
Several other women have followed her example and the enforced
sterilization suits will be settled on a case-by-case basis. Roma rights
advocates think there should be a blanket form of compensation for all
Roma women who can prove their case.
By far the most disturbing aspect of this story is that there are some who
suggest the practice of enforced sterilizations may not have been
Kumar Vishwanathan again:
"We are convinced that there has been no significant change in
medical practice over the past decade. We are convinced that the medical
practice in this country is still paternalistic, that doctors have a
paternalistic attitude to a patient rather than a partner-like approach,
and as long as that doesn't change we will remain wary that enforced
sterilization can still happen."
So when is sterilization performed in the Czech Republic and what precedes
According to Jaroslav Fajrajzl, the head of the Podoli Maternity Hospital,
the currently valid law, which dates back to the 1970s, stipulates that
doctors can perform sterilization for health reasons or at a patient's
request. In either case, the matter is discussed by a "sterilization
commission" made up of several leading experts, the patient must
request to undergo sterilization in writing and sign two separate sets of
papers, on different occasions, to confirm that she understands what the
procedure entails. She is free to change her mind up until the last minute
in the operating theatre. The only case where a surgeon may perform this
without a patient's approval is if the woman's life is in danger, for
instance if he finds extensive tumours during an operation.
Dr. Fajrajzl says that possibly the most controversial part of the law -
and one that relates to the Roma cases - is the recommendation that
is advisable for health reasons following a second or third Caesarian
"As regards the practice of sterilization after a second Caesarian
section, yes, that is recommended by the present health law. This
legislation is thirty years old and needs to be amended, because it does
not reflect the progress medicine has made in the past three decades. Some
maternity hospitals abide by this recommendation - which I do not fully
agree with - but even so, sterilization cannot be undertaken without all
of the steps I mentioned - explaining it to the patient, getting her
approval and getting approval from the sterilization commission. Hospitals
usually perform this six weeks after the birth of the child."
The thirty year old law on health care is about to be amended. Meanwhile,
the Ombudsman's Office has put forward a series of recommendations as
regards sterilizations. They are that: a woman should have at least seven
days to make up her mind whether or not to undergo sterilization and that
the hospital should provide an easy-to-understand brochure which explains
the procedure and all its implications.