A judge in Namibia has ruled that three women were sterilised without their informed consent but said there was no evidence this was because they were HIV-positive.
The case was brought by three women who opted to have Caesarean deliveries to reduce the risk of passing the Aids virus to their babies. Health officials had denied that the women were forcibly sterilised. The women’s lawyers say similar cases have been reported in nearby countries.
Judge Elton Hoff said the women had suffered physical and mental pain. Damages would be decided at a later date, he said. The women are demanding compensation of about $122,000 (£78,000) each.
‘Tip of the iceberg’
The women’s lawyers say their clients were told by doctors in Namibia that they would only be eligible for surgery if they agreed to be sterilised at the same time. The lawyers say coerced consent does not amount to informed consent and that therefore the Namibian authorities violated the women’s human rights. The health ministry denies that it issued a directive for HIV-positive women to be sterilised and said it was unaware of anyone being sterilised without their consent.
“This decision is a significant victory for HIV-positive women in Namibia,” said Nicole Fritz, from the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), which brought the case. She said the three cases were “the tip of the iceberg” as many other HIV-positive Namibian women had been sterilised without their informed consent. The lawyers said that one woman had only signed the document while she was in extreme pain during labour, while others had no idea what they had agreed to. Lawyers say they have evidence that HIV-positive women are being forced to undergo sterilisation in Swaziland and parts of South Africa.
About 13% of adults in Namibia are HIV-positive, according to UNAids.