Statement from Nancy Northup, President, Center for Reproductive Rights
Responding to India Supreme Court Decision on Country’s Sterilization Practices
The Center for Reproductive Rights is extremely pleased that the Indian Supreme Court is taking action against the illegal and coercive sterilization practices in its country, after concerned Indian nongovernmental organizations filed a petition against the government two years ago. The Court made a step in the right direction this week, by ordering state governments to regulate health-care providers who perform sterilization procedures and to compensate the relatives of victims who may die from botched operations. The Center now eagerly awaits the full decision of the Court scheduled to be issued in the next two to three months. This is an opportunity for the Court to formally acknowledge women’s reproductive rights as basic rights under the constitution and to retroactively punish negligent providers and compensate surviving victims.
Last year, the Center filed legal memoranda with the Supreme Court of India, arguing that the high incidence of abusive and coercive sterilization practices in government health-care facilities constitute grave violations of women’s human rights under international law. Under international human rights treaties, the Indian government is legally obligated to protect its citizens’ rights to health, health information, physical integrity, and reproductive self-determination. Thus far, the government has failed in this critical area of women’s lives.
In fact, research conducted by the petitioners Health Watch U.P.-Bihar and the organization Initiatives: Women in Development (IWID) documents disturbing trends of poor standards of care at government health-care facilities, sterilization of minors, high failure rates of sterilization and death resulting from negligence. According to this research, submitted to the Supreme Court, a fifteen-year-old from Kushinagar District, for example, was taken by a health worker, without her parents’ knowledge, to a facility where she was forcibly sterilized. In another case, hospital staff beat a woman after she was sterilized and after she complained about the pain following the surgery. The woman later learned that she had developed an infection from rotted stitches. Again, the Shri Ramakant Rai and Health Watch U.P. and Bihar v. Union of India and Others case gives the Supreme Court of India an opportunity to force its government to protect and uphold the reproductive rights of both these women and women throughout the country. We hope the judges will rise to the occasion and pave the way for concrete action against such abuses.
Learn more about the Center’s work in India.