Uzbek government officials said in a written statement to BBC News released this week that Uzbekistan’s record in protecting mothers and babies is “excellent and could be considered a model for countries around the world” when questioned about a secret campaign to forcibly sterilize women.
“[T]he Uzbek government said the allegations of a forced sterilisation programme were slanderous and bore no relation to reality,” according to BBC News. “The government also said that surgical contraception was not widespread and was carried out only on a voluntary basis, after consultation with a specialist and with the written consent of both parents.”
BBC News reporter Natalia Antelava interviewed several women in Uzbekistan who were sterilized without their knowledge or consent.
“I was shocked. I cried and asked: ‘But why? How could they do this?’ The doctor said, ‘That’s the law in Uzbekistan,’” one of the victims told Antelava.
Although sterilizing women without their consent is not officially a law of Uzbekistan, Antelava reported that several medical professionals whom she interviewed in the country said government officials are pressuring doctors to perform the procedures.
“Every year we are presented with a plan. Every doctor is told how many women we are expected to give contraception to; how many women are to be sterilised,” said a gynecologist from the Uzbek capital, Tashkent. “There is a quota. My quota is four women a month.”
Other medical professionals who spoke on a condition of anonymity reported that government officials put strong pressure on doctors in rural areas of Uzbekistan to sterilize women, with some doctors expected to sterilize up to eight women per week.
A BBC News source at the Ministry of Health said the sterilization program is intended to keep Uzbekistan’s population from growing beyond 28 million people. U.S. government reports estimate Uzbekistan’s population to be about 28.3 million.
While human rights organizations, and even the United Nations, have called attention to the Uzbek government’s forced sterilization program in the past, it seems virtually no international pressure is being put on Uzbek President Islam Karimov to end the abusive procedure.
The forced sterilizations may even be on the rise. Antelava’s medical sources reported a dramatic increase in Caesarean section births in the last two years, which provide surgeons with an easy opportunity to sterilize women.
“Rules on Caesareans used to be very strict, but now I believe 80% of women give birth through C-sections. This makes it very easy to perform a sterilisation and tie the fallopian tubes,” a chief surgeon at a hospital near Tashkent said.
“The mark of a totalitarian government is the use of secretive programs, violence and force to manipulate the population. This effort to forcibly sterilize women without their knowledge is an egregious affront to human rights and a crime against humanity,” said Father Peter West, vice president for missions at Human Life International, in response to the story. “Civil and political leaders in Uzbekistan and other nations, including President Obama, need to strongly and very publicly condemn these attacks on the women of Uzbekistan and pressure government officials to bring an end to this human rights crisis.”