Twenty-five years after hundreds of thousands of women were forcibly or coercively sterilized in Peru, these victims are still waiting for justice. A recent decree issued by the Peruvian Justice Ministry may help these women receive reparation for the crimes committed against them.
The politics of abortion is complicating this process, however. Many pro-aborts in Peru who once supported the sterilization campaign are now perversely attempting the use the issue to leverage support for legalizing abortion. Their political leaders have turned the issue against pro-life advocates in an attempt to silence the very voices that have always opposed sterilization—but remain aligned politically with the party once responsible for carrying out the campaign.
The good news is that these efforts have failed, at least for the moment. Last Tuesday pro-life congressmen carried the day as the Peruvian Congress upheld the right to life for victims of rape. The measure failed in large part because of Population Research Institute’s successful effort to expose the cynical political tactics of pro-abortion advocates.
“It was a victory for the citizen’s movement in defense of life,” Carlos Polo, Director of the Latin American office of the Population Research Institute, told ACI Prensa.
Last Tuesday’s vote was the second time that the Congress of Peru had rejected a bill aimed at decriminalizing abortion in cases of rape. An earlier vote by the Committee on Justice and Human Rights this past May rejected a similar measure.
Pro-abortion Peru First-Lady Nadine Heredia had expressed support for the failed measure that would have legalized abortion in cases of rape. Referring to pro-life members of the Popular Force Party—headed by Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of ex-President Alberto Fujimori—Heredia tweeted “those who want to sell themselves as defenders of life forget that for ten years they defended forced sterilization.”
Pro-life Congresswoman Martha Chavez, a member of the Popular Force Party, condemned the sterilization campaigns long before the current election cycle now underway in Peru. “I had to disagree with the government when they passed a law that, for me, is immoral, the one on sterilization…this law was an abuse against human dignity,” Chavez said in an interview with Caretas.
As pro-abortion advocates continue to use the sterilization campaign for political purposes, women who were forcibly sterilized still wait for full recognition of their demands for justice.
On November 6th, the Justice Ministry issued Supreme Decree 006-2015-JUS which will establish the Registry of Victims of Forced Sterilizations to officially document any sterilization campaign abuse that occurred between 1995 until 2001. Victims will also be eligible to receive free physical and mental health care and will have access to free legal services. The decree does not provide these benefits for women like Olimpia Florinda Roma Alvarez who were coercively sterilized between 1990 and 1995.
The sterilization campaigns were launched to reduce the country’s fertility rate, particularly among poor and indigenous women. Regulators set a cap of 3.3 children per woman as a target for total fertility going into the new millennium.
Investigations by the Population Research Institute (PRI) in the late 90’s, launched at the invitation of the Cardinal Cipriani and the Peruvian Conference of Catholic Bishops, helped to stop and expose the widespread coercive and forcible sterilizations being carried out. PRI also brought victims and eye-witnesses of campaign abuses to testify before the United States Congress. The hearings lead Congress to pass the Tiahrt Amendment which prohibits U.S. federal funding for family planning programs that seek to fill quotas and targets or seek to pressure or bribe acceptors.
Cases investigating the abuses of the Peru sterilization campaign have been opened and closed a number of times since 1999. Despite widespread abuses, only a handful of doctors have since been implicated.
A total of 2,091 women have registered complaints with the public prosecutor’s office. With the creation of the Registry of Victims, many more are expected to report cases of abuses. Over 300,000 women and 20,000 men were sterilized during the campaign, almost all of which targeted poor and indigenous women. Even the pro-abortion organization CLADEM noted that “the program is oriented towards women in extreme poverty, indigenous women. The authorities promote irreversible methods exclusively.”
At least 44 women are known to have died as a result of complications following ligation procedures. Sterilizations were often carried out in rural areas by traveling doctors in unsanitary and unsuitable conditions. Doctors were pressured to meet targets and quotas. Ligations were often hastily done. On one occasion, almost 150 women were sterilized over the period of only two days.
In his testimony before the U.S. Congress, Dr. Hector Chavez Chuchon described the situation women were facing in Peru:
These doctors do not like the way in which people are brought in for these surgical procedures, where information is poor, incomplete, and generally deficient. Also, the places where these operations are performed are for the most part unsuitable, and the personnel often insufficiently trained.
The Ministry of Health denies that there are campaigns and quotas referring to sterilizations, and absolves itself of its responsibility, without taking into account…that the doctors work under their orders. Doctors work under pressure from their superiors, are given quotas and submitted to other more subtle forms of pressure.
In one instance, physicians were so desperate to meet quotas that when the clinic ran out of anesthesia, the doors to the operating room were shut so that patients waiting outside would not hear the screams of the women being sterilized.
Many of the physicians doing sterilization procedures were poorly trained. Several instances where women had their intestines perforated have been reported including Avelina Sanchez Nolberto who, in her testimony before Congress, related her inability to pay for the medical treatment necessary to remedy the complications following her ligation procedure: “This was very expensive and I owe the hospital but do not have the ability to pay them back or to continue my treatment because of the expensive medicines needed. I am desperate from this situation.”
“Health Festivals” were held in rural villages to promote and drum-up support for sterilization. Free sterilizations were offered to the largely undereducated and illiterate women living in impoverished rural areas. The Peruvian Conference of Bishops noted that “the women were pressured, taking advantage of their little understanding of the matter.”
The doctors and nurses involved in the sterilization campaign were often relentless in pursuing clients—going door-to-door to find acceptors and pursuing patients in their private homes when they failed to show-up for an appointment.
According to Dr. Yong Motta, a former health advisor during the sterilization campaign, “If the Ministry of Health did not campaign house-to-house, people would not come,” he said in an interview with David Morrison.
A lack of informed consent was also widespread. Many women were not informed of possible health consequences. Others, like Rufina Aparco Escobar, have been reported to have been given authorization forms while in pain or under duress. At 22 years of age, Rufina was in labor and under a great deal of pain when she was admitted into the operating room for a caesarean section. She did not realize that she had been given forms authorizing sterilization until after the procedure was completed. Her newborn baby died within three hours after delivery.