On Friday, the Peruvian government announced that attention to the victims of forced sterilization was now a matter of national interest. With the declaration comes the creation of a National Registry of Forced Sterilization Victims as a way to facilitate their care.
“Never again in Peru can we implement a policy of fighting poverty by violating the reproductive rights of poor families,” President Ollanta Humala reportedly said on national television.
According to Peru This Week, the Ministry of Justice said it will create legal framework to provide free legal aid and psychological and medical care for the victims.
This follows the May announcement that the country would reopen its criminal investigation into the program under Luis Antonio Landa Burgos, Peru’s Superior Prosecutor.
Around 350,000 women and 25,000 men were involuntarily sterilized in the 1990s as part of a so-called attempt at eliminating poverty in the nation. The program, under then-president Alberto Fujimori, mainly targeted indigenous women from poor farming areas. Fujimori, who has been in prison since 2007 for human rights violations, maintains that it was a strictly voluntary program.
“I didn’t sign anything. They tricked us. Nurses told us we had to go to the clinic where we would be given a free health checkup, medicine, and food. They said it was for our own good and well-being,” said Esperanza Huayama, who was three months pregnant when she was sterilized, in an interview with Reuters. “They threatened us and said those who refuse to go wouldn’t get medical care in the future.”
But soon after arriving she was anesthetized without warning. When she woke up, she knew something was wrong. Her child was stillborn several weeks later.
“Women were crying and shouting because of the pain. We were cut quickly. They treated us like animals,” she continued. “We were given no free medicine—nothing—after the surgery. When the doctors finished, they just shut the door and returned to Lima.”
“Thousands of Peruvian women were robbed of their dignity and right to build a family,” said Ana Palacios, legal fellow for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement. “We are pleased with the progress President Humala’s administration has made with this national registry. The government must conduct a thorough criminal investigation to right these injustice[s] so women and families get the compensation and support services they need.”
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Aurelia Paccohuanca, head of the Association of Women Affected by Forced Sterilization, speaks during an interview. Image via Martin Mejia/AP.