In the Czech Republic, President Miloš Zeman signed a new bill this week that will offer compensation to the women illegally sterilized from 1966 to 2012. The law includes a provision that outlines a one-time payment of 300,000 Czech crowns from the government to individuals unlawfully treated. Most of the women sterilized between the years of 1966 to 2012 were of the Roma ethnicity.
The exact number of women illegally sterilized is not known. However, there are believed to be several hundred victims. The signing of the law by the Czech president has brought a sigh of relief for victims trying to gain justice for these illegal acts.
The fight to bring justice for the victims of illegal sterilization has been in the works for years. In 2004, the European Roma Rights Centre suspected that forced sterilizations were primarily towards Romani women in the Czech Republic. Their speculations resulted in many women reporting their experiences to the Ombudsman’s Office. Some went directly to the courts. In the years coming, the government’s anti-torture committee introduced the proposal of compensating victims alongside the then-cabinet apologizing for the illegal acts done to the women in 2009.
This long struggle to have the experiences of these women recognized while offering compensation for the criminal wrongdoings done to their bodies has brought a sense of comfort to the women. As explained by Kumar Vishwanathan, director of Life Together, “This is an historic and joyful day. The women who became the victims of these illegal sterilizations have been meeting for 18 years, and now they have finally seen justice and satisfaction.”
The victims of these unlawful sterilizations must be given justice and compensation. Many sterilized women faced tremendous difficulties in coping with this assault on their bodies: many experienced emotional, physical, psychological, and familial trauma from this illegal act. The money given to the women who were sterilized on Czech territory without consent between July 1, 1966, to March 31, 2012, will not erase the past damages done to these women. However, it will offer these women and their families a sense of security and support to move forward from this traumatic event.
Beginning in the 1960s, the communist Czechoslovakia government put forth an official policy encouraging the sterilization of Romani women. The approach was a response to authorities’ concerns over the growing Roma population in Czechoslovakia. Government authorities regarded individuals from the Roma community as “culturally substandard.” According to the European Roma Rights Centre documents, Roma women were often coerced into signing approval forms while undergoing cesarean sections or other elective surgeries. Most women were not aware that they were signing papers to approve of sterilization.
Eventually, the government began to offer financial incentives to Roma women who underwent sterilization to “control the highly unhealthy Roma population through family planning and contraception.” Forced contraception continued well into the 21st century, despite the falling of communism in 1989. The communist government formally terminated the specific decrees surrounding sterilization put forth during the 1970s before the separation of Czechoslovakia.
However, a 2015 study from the European Roma Rights Centre submitted to a UN committee indicated that the sterilization of Romani women was still in effect, with the last case of illegal sterilization occurring in 2007. In actuality, evidence suggests that dozens of women have been sterilized without their consent well after 2007.
The steps to recognize and compensate the victims of these unlawful sterilizations in the Czech Republic between 1966 and 2012 are essential. The commitment from the Czech government to compensate victims of these illegal acts of sterilization ensures that these women will be allowed to gain some form of justice. It is important to note that primarily Romani women were the ones being sterilized throughout this period. This targeting of Romani women points to the underlying racist attitudes towards the Roma people.
The signing of the law to ensure that the Roma women receive compensation for the illegal acts of sterilization does not automatically solve all the problems for the Roma people. Many Roma people face systematic racism and discrimination daily within their schools, neighbourhoods, and workplace. However, the assurance of compensation for the illegal acts of sterilization is the first step towards addressing the more significant issues that have resulted in the exclusion of the Roma people in employment, housing, health, and education within the Czech Republic.
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