Victims of Coercive Sterilization Campaign Come to Washington to Speak Out
For Immediate Release
February 24, 1998
Contact Scott Weinberg
WASHINGTON D.C. – Although her pregnancies had been difficult, Victoria Espinoza, mother of three, was certain she wanted more children. “You never remember the problems of pregnancy when you finally hold your baby,” she often said. Her last pregnancy had been difficult as well, and her baby boy delivered by caesarian section had died. But Victoria was determined to have another child – until she found out the doctor had secretly sterilized her. “When I heard that, something deep in my heart broke,” she said. “Now there is a hole inside.”
Victoria’s tragedy is emblematic of the Peruvian government’s sterilization program. Working in house to house campaigns, using threats, offering bribes of food and clothing – even taking some women off other birth control methods so they can be sterilized – Ministry of Health workers have fanned out across the country to fight the poverty of rural Peru by cutting into poor women. Today two of the victims of these measures and a doctor who grew sick of being forced to participate told their stories to the public of the nation that, in large part, has been responsible for much of their suffering.
“As much as officials with the US Agency for International Development want to distance themselves from the sterilization campaign, the trail of tears leads right to their door,” said David Morrison, an investigator with the Population Research Institute, who spent 11 days in Peru interviewing women and documenting the abuses. “Their logos are all over signs advertising family planning, their support for the Ministry of Health in Peru is well known and understood. Any private protest they may have made about the program is simply too little, too late.”
“Our investigator’s report is quite clear,” Steven Mosher, president of Population Research Institute, said, speaking at a joint press conference sponsored by the Population Research Institute and Concerned Women for America. “The government has a massive sterilization campaign underway. Peruvian women are being sterilized by the tens of thousands, often under duress. Food aid has been made conditional upon submitting to sterilization. Women already using birth control have been told they must be sterilized. Many of the sterilizations take place in the most unhygienic conditions, and women have died as a result. This attack against poor women should be condemned.”
PRI’s investigative effort discovered, among other abuses:
- Women sterilized without their knowledge or consent.
- Government documents setting sterilization quotas.
- Campaign-related deaths from unhygienic conditions and/or medical malpractice.
- Hush money offered to families of victims.
“The sterilization campaign is public knowledge in Peru,” Mosher said. “Newspapers have published stories about it, the national Public Defender’s office has denounced it. Only the Presidential Palace and Ministry of Health deny the campaign’s existence. Now we will have the words and faces of two of the women themselves – and a doctor with a conscience to tell the story of what has been going on.”
Avelina Nolberto joined Victoria Espinoza in telling her story. Avelina, a poor women from rural Peru, spoke to a doctor who mentioned sterilization but had not made a decision for or against the procedure when campaign workers scheduled her for an operation. “I came back from an errand and there they were, with a taxi, waiting for me. They took me practically by force.”
Doctor Hector Chuchon, head of the Peruvian medical federation in three of Peru’s poorest regions, seconded the women’s testimony and made it clear that doctors in the nation were under pressure very similar to that of the women. “Doctors in Peru really don’t want to do these procedures but they feel they have to,” he said. “They have been given government quotas to meet.”
“The campaign in Peru is not an isolated incident,” Mosher said. “It is but the latest in a series of similar population programs that injure poor women, corrupt legitimate health care and run rough-shod over human rights. Such programs have to be exposed and stopped.”