Catalina Devandas, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of people with disabilities, submitted a report to the UN General Assembly Tuesday which pointed out the widespread global practice of forced sterilizations and abortions for girls with disabilities.
“We can no longer ignore the widespread practices of forced sterilization, forced abortion and forced contraception inflicted on girls and young women with disabilities around the world,” Devandas told the General Assembly.“Discriminatory laws and policies are undermining the fundamental right of girls and young women with disabilities to exercise choice and have control over their bodies, violating their integrity and depriving them of dignity while promoting the interests of professionals and caregivers instead.”
The July 2017 report analyzed responses to a questionnaire sent to 47 UN member states as well as consultations with girls with disabilities in member countries. The findings were sobering.
The report found that even though UN agencies “have recognized that the forced sterilization of persons with disabilities constitutes discrimination, a form of violence, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading” the practice “is still legal and applied in many countries.”
Girls and young women with disabilities are “disproportionately subjected to forced and involuntary sterilization for different reasons, including eugenics, menstrual management and pregnancy prevention,” according to the findings.
“Women with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities, as well as those placed in institutions, are particularly vulnerable to forced sterilization,” they emphasized. “Despite the limited data on current practices, studies show that the sterilization of women and girls with disabilities continues to be prevalent, and up to three times higher than the rate for the general population.”
Other medical procedures, performed in a widespread fashion without the consent of disabled girls, include forced contraception and forced abortion.
The contraception use is “to control menstruation at the request of health professionals or, while the contraceptive needs of girls and young women with disabilities are the same as those without disabilities, they receive contraception more often by way of injection or through intrauterine devices rather than orally, as it is less burdensome for families and service providers.”
The forced abortion is often “owing to negative stereotypes about their parenting skills” and “eugenics-based concerns about giving birth to a child with disabilities.”
During official country visits, Devandas even “received information about compulsory regular gynaecological checks and the use of forced abortion in institutions as a way to contain the institution’s population.”
The report also details “a worrisome and growing number of cases of surgical procedures and hormonal treatments intended to inhibit the growth of girls and young women with severe impairments.”
In some member states, “hysterectomy, for example, is regarded as an effective way to avoid menstruation and it is justified on the discriminatory presumption that girls and young women with disabilities cannot handle the pain, discomfort and trauma of menstruation — an argument not applicable to girls and women without disabilities.”
Devandas also highlighted practices such as estrogen treatments which aim “to inhibit girls’ entry into puberty and reduce their final height and weight in order to facilitate care practices,” which “constitute gross human rights violations that go well beyond patronizing and infantilizing; they prioritize the interests of caregivers to the detriment and denial of a person’s dignity and integrity.”
The report also points to the physical and communication barriers girls with disabilities face in seeking justice in sexual assault cases. Barriers include “lack of accessibility and reasonable and procedural accommodations, such as sign language interpretation, alternative forms of communication and support services that are age and gender-sensitive.”
They add that “owing to prejudices and stereotypes, courts commonly discount the testimony of girls and young women with disabilities in sexual assault cases, from questioning whether girls and young women with intellectual disabilities can understand the oath when testifying to discrediting the testimony of blind witnesses because they are not ‘able’ to know/perceive the sequence of events.”
Many studies from across the globe show that young women with disabilities “are at increased risk of violence, abuse and exploitation compared with those without disabilities, and with boys and young men with disabilities.”
“Children with disabilities are almost four times more likely to experience violence than children without disabilities,” the report says, and the risk “is consistently higher in the case of deaf, blind and autistic girls, girls with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities and girls with multiple impairments.”
Devandas is calling on UN member states to “immediately repeal all legislation and regulatory provisions that allow the administration of contraceptives to and the performance of abortion, sterilization or other surgical procedures on girls and young women with disabilities without their free and informed consent, and/or when decided by a third party.”