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UK Government Funds Forced Sterilizations in India

The British government gave $268 million to the government of India for a program that forcibly sterilizes poor women and men, according to the Guardian newspaper. This news comes as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation prepares to co-host a family planning summit with the British government in London this July.

Melinda Gates recently dismissed the link between contraception programs and population control in a speech launching her new initiative. Titled “No Controversy,” her campaign intends to “change the global conversation around family planning” by discounting its association with abortion, coercion and immorality, and focusing on universal access.

Around the same time, India’s supreme court heard evidence of coercive mass sterilizations in filthy conditions.

Men and women are rounded up into makeshift rural camps to be sterilized, many left in pain with little or no care. Some women, sterilized while pregnant, suffered miscarriages. Some were bribed with less than $8 and a sari, others threatened with losing their ration cards. Some died from botched operations.

Uneducated men and women did not discover the true purpose of the operations until too late. In a region targeted by the UK government, a 35-year old wife of a poor laborer, pregnant with twins, bled to death.

Clinics received bonuses for doing more than 30 operations a day. Non-governmental workers were paid for each person they convinced to be operated on. One surgeon working in a school building committed 53 operations in 2 hours with unqualified staff, no running water or means to clean the equipment.

“Obsession” with reaching the United Nations Millennium Development Goals pushed India to institute coercive sterilizations, reported the Global Post in 2010.

“There’s a great hurry to again set targets from above to be followed by everyone. And that’s again creating problems,” said A.R. Nanda, India’s former health secretary.

“When you create an incentive system, it privileges one solution over the other and encourages them to cut corners,” said Abhijit Das, the head of Healthwatch Forum.

“And we’ve had very bad experiences with that in the past.”

Sterilization is the most common method of family planning used by India’s Reproductive and Child Health Program Phase II, begun in 2005 with UK funding.

Reports in 2006, 2007 and 2009 by the Indian government warned of problems with the program, noted The Guardian.  Yet in 2010 the UK’s Department for International Development recommended continued support. One key reason was to address climate change. Reducing the number of humans would lower greenhouse gases. It conceded there are “complex human rights and ethical issues” involved in population control programs.

Despite the warnings, the UK placed no conditions on its funding.

The UK and Gates Foundation summit aims to collect “unprecedented political commitment and resources . . . to meet the family planning needs of women in the world’s poorest countries by 2020,” stated the Department for International Development, the agency that funded India’s sterilization program.

India’s fertility rate is 2.62.  Pressures to lower fertility and reduce the size of families coincide with a worsening gender imbalance of more boys than girls in the country.


This article is courtesy the "Friday Fax" of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM).
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