Peru's Family Planning Became Coerced Sterilization Probes Find Some Doctors Bribed, Pressured, or Deceived Women into Being Sterilized

Article excerpt

When Victoria lost her new-born baby in 1996, she was devastated.

"What kept me going was the thought that next year I could try again," the Peruvian woman says. "I was so sad but I had the hope that I'd have another chance."

That hope evaporated when she overheard a doctor saying that she had been sterilized by a tubal ligation. She says no one had ever discussed the operation with her or her husband nor asked for her consent. "I wanted another child," Victoria says in almost a whisper. Victoria's case is only one of a string of allegations that have emerged over the past few months in connection with sterilizations performed by the Peruvian Ministry of Health through its Family Planning Program. In 1995, the government launched what was widely regarded as an extremely progressive family planning program. It promised all women access to any family planning method they chose, free of charge. But mounting allegations and investigations are raising serious questions here. Instead of the progressive program described in its glossy brochure, critics claim that the Ministry of Health actually has been waging a massive sterilization campaign in which women - especially poor and indigenous women - were pressured, bribed, or deceived into receiving the surgery. In 1997, state doctors performed 110,000 tubal ligations - up from 30,000 the year before. Among them were some atypical candidates: women with no children, 15-to-19-year-olds, and menopausal women, according to various inquiries. According to Maria (not her real name), a woman who has worked as an obstetric nurse for the health department for five years, health department employees were under pressure to fill quotas - between eight and 36 per month - for tubal ligations. "They imposed quotas on us and they made it clear that our job stability depended on filling them," says Maria, adding that this pressure came directly and explicitly from the highest levels of the Family Planning Program. Maria says the pressure was accompanied by financial incentives: Doctors and obstetric nurses, herself included, were paid roughly $10 to $30 for every tubal ligation client they recruited. Problems began when pressure was transferred to clients. "In order to try to maintain their job, many people pass on the incentives they receive to the patient in an attempt to convince them to agree to the surgery," Maria says. "This is going on in the poorest sectors of the country where people are capable of doing anything for money." Both newspaper reports and investigations have revealed numerous accounts of women who were promised food for undergoing surgery. …