Namibian Judge Elton Hoff ruled Monday that the nation’s government sterilized three HIV-infected women without proper consent, coercing them to sign forms they didn’t fully understand while they were in labor. This is a major decision in a nation that is grappling with how to deal with fertility and child-rearing in a nation with a heavy HIV infection rate.
While the ruling rejected claims that the women were singled out for the procedure strictly because they had the disease, activist are still celebrating the decision. They worry more women in Namibia are being forced into sterilization by doctors and have introduced several cases on the matter into local courts.
The women, with ages ranging from 20s to 40s, all sought government care and signed release forms that allowed doctors to sterilize them, allegedly without knowing what they signed, according to HIV project lawyer Nyasha Chingore with the Southern Africa Litigation Centre. “The consent forms were all signed when they were in labor,” she attested.
The government has 14 days to appeal the ruling, Corinna van Wyk, the women’s attorney, told the Associated Press. If it stands, all three will be entitled to monetary damages—but that process will be delayed while other similar cases remain open in the courts. Still, the primary argument of the case was that women have the right to be properly informed about the sterilization process and given the ability to decide on the procedure free of coercion. That right, Van Wyk feels, has been upheld by the court. “Right now, all we wanted was a standard and we got that,” she said