Report finds extensive use of forced sterilization in Colombia

Photo of map of Colombia, with a pin flag.
Forced sterilization in Colombia

A group of human rights organizations released a new report October 1, documenting the widespread practice of sterilization of people with disabilities in Colombia.

“Surgical sterilization of women and girls is irreversible, and when forced, it is considered an act of gender-based violence, a form of social control, and a violation of the right to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment,” the report states.

The report is meant to supplement the country’s report to the United Nations committee tasked with overseeing compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), of which Colombia is a signee.

Colombia permits individuals to obtain absolute guardianship over people who are deemed to have absolute mental disabilities, as well as partial guardianship over those whose disabilities are not so severe. The category of people who fall under the absolute category include those who are deaf or prepubescent.

Through a process called interdiction, guardians can petition a court for a surgical sterilization. According to Colombia’s Ministry of Health, 505 women and 105 men with disabilities were sterilized between 2009 and 2011.

In addition to CEDAW, the report contends that the practice violates the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which requires signees to “recognize that persons with disabilities enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis with others in all aspects of life.”

“Under Colombia’s unrestricted guardianship law, women and girls with disabilities are regularly subjected to surgical sterilization without their informed consent under the guise of a protective measure,” said Lisa Davis, a professor at the City University of New York School of Law’s International Women’s Human Rights Clinic, in a news release. “State institutions and, at times, even well-meaning families justify the practice as a means to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

“While this acknowledges that these women and girls are subject to sexual exploitation, it denies them sexual and reproductive agency. It does nothing to lessen a woman’s vulnerability to rape, sexual harassment, or other forms of sexual violence.”

The report’s collaborators include Asdown Colombia, Entre Transitos, Procrear, Fundamental Colombia, Grupo de Apoyo Transgenerista (GAT), International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), MADRE , the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic (IWHR) at CUNY School of Law, Profamilia, Rostros sin Ácido, Sinergias Alianzas Estratégicas para la Salud y el Desarrollo Social, Taller de Vida, and the University of Los Andes through the Alberto Lleras Camargo School of Government and PAIIS, a human rights clinic.


Andy Jones, author of this post, is a law student at CUNY School of Law.  He had no role in preparation of the report discussed in this post.