Are the Czech Republic and other Central European countries continuing a Soviet-era practice of sterilizing Gypsy women, without their full consent? Indications are ominous but inconclusive, as the Christian Science Monitor reports:
Human rights activists say that the fall of communism here 16 years ago did not put an end to a Soviet-era practice that targeted Romany women for sterilizations—sometimes offering money in exchange for consent—as a means of population control.
Now, a UN committee is poised to agree with them. A draft report from the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, expected to be finalized and released this week, says the Czech government failed to fully answer to the charges of more than 80 Romany women who have come forward since 2004 and said they were sterilized without informed consent.
These cases, which date from 1986 to 2004, formed the basis for a sweeping Czech public defender report released in December after a yearlong investigation. That report concluded that the cases had merit, and urged the government to change legislation involving sterilizations and compensating victims. The UN committee is now demanding the same thing…
Activists say the sterilization of Romany women was regionwide. Slovakia, for example, is said to have more cases, and the practice also has been reported in Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.
But researching allegations is difficult, largely because doctors and hospitals balk at releasing information, says Dimitrina Petrova, the director of the European Roma Rights Center in Budapest. "There are many obstacles. There is an enormous amount of difficulty getting facts."
There's an interesting possible pattern in these cases:
Many of the Czech cases are similar: They involve Romany women who were usually undergoing their second caesarean section when doctors told them that a tubal ligation was required to avoid a third pregnancy (and caesarean). Many were given this information minutes before delivery and told to sign a paper. Others say they were simply lied to and told the procedure was reversible.
That's an interesting psychological situation: You're a doctor or a nurse seeing a woman come in for her second caesarian—there's already a good case to be made that her tubes should be tied. On top of that you just might believe at some level that people like this shouldn't be breeding in the first place. They cross borders without documentation, depress wages for local citizens, use up precious emergency room facilities without paying for them; on top of it all, this one is just putting her life in danger producing more mouths to feed. How tempting would it be to put some consent papers in front of the illiterate and still believe you're acting for purely medical reasons? On the basis of this article, I'd doubt there's an airtight case to be made that there's anything approaching a formal sterilization program, but you never know: Europe has been trying to wipe out the Gyps for almost as long as there's been a Europe.