Czech MPs draft bill to compensate women who have been forcibly sterilized
After many years of advocacy, women who have been illegally sterilized without their free and informed consent could finally be awarded compensation by the Czech state in the amount of CZK 300 000 [EUR 11 600] through a law that has been put forward by MPs from across the political spectrum: the ANO movement, the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD), the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL) and TOP 09. The legislation would apply to women who were illegally sterilized without their informed consent between 1 July 1966 and 31 March 2012.
Once the law takes effect, women will have three years to apply for compensation. Sterilization in breach of the law is conceived of by the legislators as follows: "any medical procedure preventing fertility for which no authorized person gave consent" or for which consent was obtained by violating the legal regulations governing the cessation of fertility, or "under circumstances that either made it impossible for the person to freely give consent without error or that severely disrupted the possibility to freely give consent without error."
Sterilizations performed without the woman's free and informed consent were a frequent occurrence in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia, above all during the communist regime. Doctors sterilized some mothers without their awareness, or exploited situations in which the women were in labor and in pain to get them to sign forms "consenting" to such procedures.
Social workers also coerced women to sign their "consent" to such procedures by threatening to take away their existing children. "The women who were manipulated in that way are one group. Others were sterilized during Cesarean deliveries," says human rights activist Gwendolyn Albert.
That was the case of Romani community member Elena Gorolová, who was sterilized during such a delivery without being aware of it. "During the birth of her second child, the doctor decided that the delivery had to be by Cesarean section - she was in unbelievable pain and was enormously afraid, because complications had occurred during the labor," Albert describes Gorolová's case.
"It was at that moment that the health care staff gave her papers to sign, and she trusted the doctors completely. Of course, she was in no state to be able to analyze the documents or begin arguing with the health care staff about them," Albert says.
"The next day she was told she would never have children again," the human rights activist relates. Gorolová, who has been fighting for redress for women sterilized without their consent for many long years, said three years ago that: "The financial compensation we are striving for is not everything."
"You cannot buy a child, you cannot get back what you've lost - the opportunity to become a mother," Gorolová said. Many of the mothers who have been harmed in this way also suffered their marriages falling apart because of the sterilizations, and some began to be shunned by their own communities, for different reasons.
Not all of the women sterilized without their consent were Romani. The non-Romani women who have been affected frequently came from large families or in some cases were older.
The assumption was that the older a woman is, the more likely she would be to give birth to a disabled child. Generally speaking, most of the women who were sterilized without their free and informed consent came from more impoverished conditions.
Some non-Romani women have also been attempting to achieve compensation along with their Romani counterparts. The Czech Government expressed regret over these practices in 2009.
One ANO-ČSSD Government already rejected such a proposal
In 2015, the Government of Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka rejected essentially the same bill that has now been introduced in the lower house - the rejected version was proposed by Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier. Some cabinet ministers indicated that they believed the victims could have brought lawsuits for compensation, and also claimed the victims should find it sufficient that the state has expressed its regret and has adjusted the regulations governing such surgeries to make forced sterilizations unlikely in the future.
Then-Deputy Human Rights Minister Martina Štěpánková said that in many of these cases, filing lawsuits after 1989 would have aided nothing, because the plaintiffs' entitlement to financial compensation for violations of their personality rights had already expired - and she also expressed doubts as to whether the communist regime would have ever facilitated the judicial review of such complaints. There are many social barriers in place between the women who have been harmed and the courts, and without the aid of nonprofit organizations after 1989, many of them would never have managed to figure out how to sue over their treatment.
It should be noted that before 1989, the communists only permitted organizations to function that they could supervise through the National Front. The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), an international organization, came forward with its suspicions about ongoing forced sterilizations in the Czech Republic, primarily of Romani women, in 2004.
Dozens of women then sent complaints to the Czech Ombudsman (the Public Defender of Rights) and some also brought lawsuits. Ombudsman Otakar Motejl was the first state official to systematically compile information about the subject in 2005.
The Czech Government Committee against Torture then proposed introducing a compensation procedure for the victims in 2006. The Czech Republic has long been criticized by international organizations for violating these people's rights without subsequently compensating them.
News server iDNES.cz reports that an estimated 400 victims of illegal sterilizations will probably apply for and be found eligible for compensation. The overall amount of compensation paid would, therefore, be about CZK 120 million [EUR 4.7 million].
The cabinet will now assess the bill submitted to the lower house. If the Government does not raise objections to the draft legislation, Parliament will decide on its adoption.
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