US sterilisation victims get no money

2012-06-21 21:29
North Carolina seal

North Carolina seal

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Raleigh - The first serious proposal to compensate victims of a vast, decades-long forced sterilisation programme has failed, with North Carolina legislators saying the budget was too tight to allow any money for them.

"At this point, I have lost all hope," one of the measure's biggest supporters, Rep Earline Parmon, said on Wednesday.

The effort to give each victim $50 000 passed the state House, but Republican lawmakers in the Senate said the state didn't have the money. They also feared paying the victims would lead other groups, such as descendants of slaves, to seek reparations.

Most US states had eugenics programmes but abandoned those efforts after World War II, when such practices became closely associated with Nazi Germany's attempts to achieve racial purity. Scientists also debunked the assumption that "defective" humans could be weeded out of the population.

North Carolina stood out because it strengthened its programme after the war.

Between 1929 and 1974, the Southern state forcibly sterilised about 7 600 people whom it deemed "feeble-minded" or otherwise undesirable. Many were poor black women.

People as young as 10 were sterilised, in some cases for not getting along with schoolmates, or for being promiscuous. Although officials obtained consent from patients or their guardians, many did not understand what they were signing.

A group set up to help victims estimated up to 1 800 were still living, though it had only verified 146 of them.

The NC Justice for Sterilisation Victims Foundation held numerous public hearings over the past year on whether to compensate the victims and how much to give them.

Sorry time

"That's the only thing I hated about being operated on, 'cause I couldn't have kids," Willis Lynch, 77, who was sterilised at 14, said at a hearing last year. "It's always been in the back of my mind."

Democratic Governor Beverly Perdue set aside $10m in her proposed budget for the victims but couldn't muster support from key Republican senators.

Money would not change anything, Republican Sen Don East said last week.

"You just can't rewrite history. It was a sorry time in this country," East said. "I'm so sorry it happened, but throwing money don't change it, don't make it go away. It still happened."

One of the most outspoken victims, Elaine Riddick, has said she was raped and then sterilised after giving birth to a son when she was 14.

In 1983, a jury rejected victims' claims that they had been wrongfully deprived of their right to bear children. Ultimately, the US Supreme Court decided not to hear the case.

"I have given North Carolina a chance to justify what they had wronged," Riddick said on Wednesday. "These people here don't care about these victims... I will die before I let them get away with this."

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