Peruvian Government Launches Investigation into Forced Sterilization Program

Esperanza Huayama was three months pregnant when she agreed to take advantage of free "medical treatment" being offered by the Peruvian government twenty years ago.   Living in the northern state of Piuria, along with dozens of other women from her village, she underwent a three-hour bus ride to take her to a medical clinic.  Instead of a medical examination however, she was anesthetized and subjected to a tubal ligation rendering her incapable of having any more children.   It was only after the operation that she was even aware of what the doctors had intended.   Her child was born dead weeks after the surgery,  likely due to the medical consequences of her sterilization.

Now 59 years old, Huayama has become one of the public faces of a campaign to investigate the forced sterilization program that had been ordered by the government of then-President Alberto Fujimori.  An estimated 350,000 women and 25,000 men, most of whom came from the poorest regions of the country, were either not told that they were being sterilized or else threatened with legal punishments if they refused. 

"I didn't sign anything. They tricked us. Nurses told us we had to go to the clinic where we would be given a free health check-up, medicine and food. They said it was for our own good and well-being," Huayama, recently stated in a telephone interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.  "They threatened us and said those who refuse to go wouldn't get medical care in the future.   Women were crying and shouting because of the pain. We were cut quickly. They treated us like animals.  We were given no free medicine, nothing, after the surgery. When the doctors finished, they just shut the door and returned to Lima."

International human rights group Amnesty International has launched the "Against Her Will" campaign to create a national database of victims of forced sterilization and to provide belated justice to the thousands of Peruvians rendered infertile.   Amnesty International Americas director Ericka Guevara described the forced sterilization program as leaving a wave of suffering and calls for justice and reparations.  "Even though we have documented cases in other countries in the region like Mexico and Guatemala, we have not come across a situation as serious as the forced sterilizations in Peru,” she said. 

While previous administrations have launched investigations of why so many Peruvians were sterilized, there have been systematic delays with cases being opened and closed three times since 2007.   Alberto Fujimori has been imprisoned since 2007 on corruption charge but human rights campaigners are calling for criminal charges to be laid against him over the sterilization campaign.      Prosecutor Marcella Gutierrez has until February 2016 to file charges against Fujimori and other prominent government officials involved.  .

Not surprisingly, the forced sterilization campaign has become a political issue in presidential election campaigns, including the 2011 campaign with Keiko Fujimori, Alberto's daughter, running against current President Ollanta Humala.  Though Humala won the election, the promised reparations have been slow in coming.

In the meantime, Esperanza Huyama and countless other Peruvians are obliged to live with the consequences of what was done to them.   Whether they will ever see the justice they deserve is still a politically loaded question in Peru.

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