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Report on the coerced sterilization of Romani women in the Czech Republic describes last 50 years through testimony

6.12.2016 20:29
Elena Gorolová, spokesperson for the Group of Women Harmed by Forced Sterilization. Hundreds of women have been illegally sterilized in the former Czechoslovakia and Czech Republic, the vast majority of whom cannot sue in court because their claims are statute-barred. (PHOTO:
Elena Gorolová, spokesperson for the Group of Women Harmed by Forced Sterilization. Hundreds of women have been illegally sterilized in the former Czechoslovakia and Czech Republic, the vast majority of whom cannot sue in court because their claims are statute-barred. (PHOTO:

The European Roma Rights Centre in Budapest (ERRC) has published a detailed report about the coerced sterilization of Romani women in the Czech Republic. The document of more than 80 pages describes the last 50 years primarily through the testimonies of individual women.

The report concerns one of the most serious cases of human rights violations against women, the practice of coerced sterilizations programmatically aimed at Romani women and women with disabilities during the 1970s-1990s. In communist Czechoslovakia the practice was legislated in 1971 on the basis of the adoption of a directive on how sterilizations should be performed.

The directive gave public authorities more or less free reign to systematically sterilize Romani women and women with disabilities without their full and informed consent as a means of controlling their birth rate. In 1979, Czechoslovaka also initiated a program of financial incentives for Romani women that were supposed to coerce them into undergoing sterilizations, and the motivation of this measure was said to be the necessity of "controlling the birth rate of the very unhealthy Romani population through planned parenthood and birth control."

The Czech ombudsman's investigation into the practice of the involuntary sterilization of Romani women estimated in the year 2005 that since the year 1972 it is possible that thousands of women have been involuntarily sterilized on the territory of the former Czechoslovakia - and the official records of these surgeries are misleading in many cases. "I asked for a copy of my medical records and saw that my signature had been forged. Even the date of delivery is wrong, because I did not give birth on the 25th. I gave birth on the 13th, but in my papers they wrote that I was delivered on the 25th by C-section. I have never had a C-section. They forged my signature, alleging that I had signed [consented to sterilization], that I knew. In the records it is written that I was sterilized on the 29th, but by then I had long been back home already," one survivor of these practices, who is today 48 years old, is quoted as saying in the ERRC report.

Another Romani woman describes in the report how a social worker responsible for her area told her that:  "You Gypsies are accustomed to giving birth to a child every year so you can get welfare, and you live off of that welfare, etc. When Gypsies have children, they only have them so they can get welfare and they don't take care of them at all."

The sterilization of women was incentivized by state policy in Czechoslovakia until 1993, when the legislation was abolished. Nevertheless, in practice the sterilizations of Romani women and women with disabilities against their will did not end with the cancellation of the legal regulations that facilitated the practice, but continued, not just during the 1990s, but even afterword, with the most recent case known to the ERRC having occurred in 2007.

Romani people represent the largest minority in the Czech Republic. The Council of Europe estimates there are between 150 000 and 250 000 Romani people living in the country today.

According to the census of 2011, 13 109 Czech citizens reported that they were of Romani ethnicity. The entire report by the ERRC, "Coercive and Cruel: Sterilization and its Consequences for Romani Women in the Czech Republic (1966-2016)" is available online in English here and in Czech here.

th, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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