Forced to give up fertility

2014-08-05 00:00

THE South African state is accused of stealing motherhood from dozens of women after sterilising them against their will or under duress.

Today The Witness can reveal that at least 24 women in KwaZulu-Natal have come forward in the last month to give statements to advocacy groups investigating forced sterlisation practices in SA.

The statements were taken last month by the advocacy group Her Rights Initiative, the International Community of Women Living with HIV and the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s law clinic in Durban.

All the women claim to have been sterilised either without their consent or forced to give consent under pressure.

HIV-positive women, in particular, are targeted, experts say.

Now, the provincial Health Department faces the prospect of being slapped with individual litigation or a class action lawsuit.

The Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) has also launched a national probe into obstetrics, maternal health and forced sterilisation.

In the most recent case from the group of 24, a woman claims she was forced to sign a form giving consent to sterilisation while in labour at an unnamed local hospital only four months ago.

But other hospitals named by the women as practising forced sterilisation are Prince Mshiyeni, Addington, Richards Bay and Port Shepstone hospitals.

“We try to assess each and every case of the new 24 women who have come forward,” said advocate Ann Strode of the UKZN’s school of law.

Strode said the statements were taken from the women after they came forward following a show on a radio station during which sterilisation was discussed.

“Many of them did not know it was illegal to be sterilised in this way without your full consent voluntarily given when they found out that they were sterilised,” Strode said.

Once the women’s statements were studied, a decision would be made whether or not legal action should be pursued with assistance from the Cape Town-based Women’s Legal Centre, Strode said.

Janine Hicks, the KZN-based commissioner with the CGE, said their legal officers in all provinces were investigating.

She said they were still investigating the extent of the practice and were in the initial stages of their inquiry.

In an earlier interview she said the commission had received complaints about HIV-positive women forced to be sterilised when they gave birth at public hospitals.

“They are not aware that they are sterilised. They are made to sign consent forms because health workers think HIV-positive women should not be having babies,” Hicks said.

The provincial Health Department had not responded at the time of going to press on the allegations relating to the hospitals.

But national department spokesperson Joe Maila said forced sterilisation was not the policy of the department.

“Sterilisation is a choice that can be taken by the patient,” Maila said.

In 2011, a study undertaken in four provinces, including KZN, found more than 20 women were forced by nurses and doctors to give consent.

One women won an out-of-court settlement from the Gauteng Health Department earlier this year.

• mayibongwe.maqhina@witness.co.za

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