Disturbing Reports of Government-led Forced Sterilization in Uzbekistan

Posted by Daniel Sharp May 1, 2012
Biopolitical Times

A recent BBC World Service exposé reported on a “massive” clandestine and coercive sterilization campaign in Uzbekistan.

The shocking details are best driven home by the chilling personal narratives of Uzbek women. Many are sterilized without their knowledge during childbirth, and only find out later when they are unable to conceive:   

Two weeks after Bakhor came home with her newborn son the joy of the new baby was overshadowed by a growing suspicion that something had gone badly wrong.

"I kept bleeding heavy black lumps, and the pain was unbearable, I thought I had a tumour," the 32-year-old Uzbek says.

It took Bakhor four months to save up money for an ultrasound. She cries as she remembers the result. During the caesarean section, the doctor explained, she had a hysterectomy.

"The doctor said 'you don't have a uterus any more'. He said: 'What do you need it for? Two children is enough for you'," she says.

According to the Expert Working Group, an Uzbek NGO, stories like Bakhor’s are shared by thousands of Uzbek women sterilized at the behest of the state.  The group estimates that in 2010 alone, 80,000 sterilizations took place, many of which involved dubious consent.  As an anonymous Uzbek doctor put it in an interview with the BBC:

"On paper, sterilizations should be voluntary, but women don't really get a choice…It's very easy to manipulate a woman, especially if she is poor. You can say that her health will suffer if she has more children. You can tell her that sterilization is best for her. Or you can just do the operation."

While coercive sterilization is not “the law” in Uzbekistan, human rights organizations as well as a number of anonymous medical professionals allege that the order to sterilize without knowledge or consent often comes from the very top. According to the anonymous testimony of a number of Uzbek doctors, medical professionals are given quotas on how many sterilizations they must perform:

"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 sterilized…There is a quota. My quota is four women a month.

Other quotas are reportedly as high as eight women per week, and doctors may face fines for disobeying.

The chilling news from Uzbekistan is a disturbing highlight in a month of tumultuous news about coercive sterilization.  In the UK, the Guardian recently reported that “tens of millions pounds of UK aid money have been spent on a programme that has forcibly sterilised Indian women and men.” In China, human rights activist Chen Guangchen, who angered authorities by exposing state-sponsored forced abortions and sterilizations, escaped from house arrest and reportedly sought refuge in the US Embassy in Beijing, sparking controversy in China and abroad.  

On a more positive note, North Carolina last week took a significant step by writing $10.3 million for victims of its former eugenic sterilization campaign into the state budget (which is still pending review). With only a few of the 32 US states that had at one time had eugenic sterilization laws on their books having even apologized for the violations, our own eugenic past lingers to this day.

Previously on Biopolitical Times: