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WASHINGTON – The barbaric practice of “sterilization camps” where hundreds or thousands forcibly are sterilized to impose a government ethic of population control on people has alarmed and enraged pro-life and civil rights advocates for several years, but now as the Population Research Institute is raising the specter that U.S. taxpayers are funding those operations, an expert opponent to such practices is demanding a full and formal investigation.
“What this shows me is that violence against women, in the form of sterilization, does not require a one-child policy like in China,” Reggie Littlejohn, of the Women’s Rights Without Frontiers organization that fights gendercide and forced abortion.
“It can happen anywhere, where women are devalued,” she continued. “I would call for an investigation of whether USAID funding, family planning money in India, is related to coercive sterilization.”
The Indian television network, NDTV, aired a film in February reporting that 103 women were sterilized by two doctors in a single day at the Manikchak Rural Health Center in the Malda district of West Bengal.
These women were then released from the clinics to return home without any followup medical treatment. There were reports of women who had undergone anesthesia were fainting in pain once they had regained consciousness. Women were loaded onto rickshaws, still bleeding and many falling in and out of consciousness, to be sent home, the report said.
“The camps are happening non-stop right now throughout the country because the end of the financial year – March 31 – is approaching and there is pressure on health workers to meet their sterilization quotas,” Kerry McBroom, an American lawyer with the Human Rights Law Network in Delhi told PRI Review. “We’ll have a constant stream of injured women and dying women as a result.”
India denies having quotas for sterilization, but according to McBroom, they are set by local health administrators and are well publicized.
For example, in 2011, health officials in the district of Rajasthan set a target goal to sterilize 1 percent of the population. To incentivize individuals to undergo sterilization they offered mobile phones, cars, motorcycles and refrigerators to those who agreed.
Paying people to undergo sterilization is illegal in the U.S. and most other countries. Indian officials have publicly denounced it, but the practice of offering incentives to citizens who agree to be sterilized remains prevalent. The amounts or gifts offered vary. They range from 150 rupees (about $2.70 U.S.) to about 600 rupees (about $11 U.S.).
Workers known as Accredited Social Health Activists are also given bonuses for every person from their district that they bring to be sterilized.
HRLN reported that earlier this month that in a village in Bihar a sign hung that stated that every ASHA worker would be required to bring 12 women and one man in for sterilization. It reported further that there are 8,400 ASHA workers in Bihar, meaning ASHA workers were expected to meet a 100,000 person quota.
“The ASHA workers are just other women in the village,” said McBroom. “They’re not usually motivated by ideology or population control. But they are definitely motivated by incentives. Just like all the other women in the villages, they’re trying to eek out an existence.
“These are extraordinarily marginalized women,” added McBroom. Most of them cannot read and are married young. “If the government has money for incentives, it really should be paying for basic health care necessities. These women go to hospitals without running water or electricity.”
Last year, the HRLN filed papers in the Supreme Court of India documenting widespread abuse of the national guidelines for sterilization. The papers dated back as far as 2005, when the Supreme Court ordered state governments to regulate conditions where sterilizations were performed. The Supreme Court also directed states to put an end to coercive practices and compensate women who suffered from complications.
HRLN reports that eight years later, despite the Supreme Court’s directive, unsafe sterilization camps are still the norm throughout India. HRLN included a petition in its filing which included signatures from 53 lower caste women who were sterilized by a single government doctor in just two hours at a local high school in early 2012. According to the petition, the high school has no electricity or running water so the operations were carried out by a flashlight. The women were then given out of date pain-killers and sent on their way.
The Union of India and many states have replied but according to McBroom, the replies have been inadequate.
“They’re basically vague assurances of compliance,” McBroom said.
“The UNFPA, the World Health Organization, all the state governments, they all know about [these abuses]. They are callous and insensitive,” said Devika Biswas, an activist with HRLN.
But programs related to family planning in India continue to receive tens of millions of dollars from the US Agency for International Development, the UK, the World Bank and other outside organizations.
The U.S. budget for health programs in India in the 2011 fiscal year was $78 million, $23 million of which is specifically earmarked for family planning.
Under a U.S. law called the Tiarht Amendment, USAID is prohibited from funding any family planning program that sets targets for sterilization or engages in coercion and or involves financial incentives. If any violation to these requirements is found, the administrator of USAID has 60 days to submit a report of finding to the Committee on International Relations and the Committee on Appropriations of the House of Representatives for and the Committee on Foreign Relationship and the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Littlejohn cited a report from just weeks ago by the Congressional Research Service titled “Abortion and Family Planning-Related Provisions in U.S. Foreign Assistance Law and Policy.”
It addresses, among other requirements, the Tiahrt Amendment. That, the report said, puts “requirements on voluntary family planning projects receiving assistance from USAID.”
That specifies that such providers “shall not implement or be subject to quotas or other numerical targets…”
Further, the report said a separate law forbids the use of U.S. money for research “which relates, in whole or in part, to methods of, or the performance of, abortions or involuntary sterilization.”
She also noted that in 2002 the International Criminal Court, headquartered in the Hague, defined forced sterilization as a crime against humanity worldwide.
“If you are financing the infrastructure for forced sterilization, you are complicit,” she said. “If the U.S. taxpayer is being forced to pay, we need to know.”
Littlejohn also added the issue is not partisan, as the Human Rights Watch also has condemned the practice. The organization reported, “Health workers who miss sterilization targets because they give proper counseling and accurate information about contraception risk losing their jobs…”