Between 1996 and 2000, over 300,000 women and 16,000 men were surgically sterilized through a program called “Family Planning and Reproductive Health Program” implemented during Alberto F. Fujimori’s dictatorial presidential regime in Peru. Most of them came from economically deprived areas in the highlands, the coast and the amazon regions of the country, where the majority of people do not speak Spanish as a first language, and where high rates of poverty, maternity and mortality can be found.
“Contraceptive Voluntary Surgery” (“Anticoncepción Quirurgica Voluntaria” in Spanish or AQV’s) was applied massively and systematically on these populations. In this period, it is estimated that only a small percentage of the total population that underwent surgical sterilization gave their full consent.
The majority of the people affected were indigenous people, with their own beliefs, cultural practices and customs. Sterilizations were conducted without considering the patient’s cultural background. Several reports indicate that they were taken to local medical centers using false information, pressuring and bribing them and their families so that they comply. In some cases, the medical procedures were executed without consent, using fake signatures and un-translated medical consent forms (from Spanish to Quechua or any other language). Testimonies describe unsanitary conditions in the medical centers, and the poor post-operatory information that resulted in complications, which lead to the death of eighteen women.
In 2001, a brave group of twelve women from the town of Anta, in Cusco, denounced the violation of their rights and the intractable fact that they had being sterilized without their consent, for life. These women’s struggle led to a broader fight for justice, still ongoing, which creates a powerful reminder of how health access, reproductive health, and, overall human rights are affected by the structural inequities our modern societies perpetuates. Over 16 years have passed since the first cases were reported and yet, there is still no justice for those affected and no sanctions have been issued for those implicated. In March of 2012, the case of forced “Contraceptive Voluntary Surgery” was reopened by the Peruvian public prosecutor’s office for the third time. As I am writing these lines in December of 2017, the case has yet to be judged and closed.