More Than 1,000 OZ Girls/Young Women Illegally Sterilized
By Michael Perry
SYDNEY, Dec 15 (Reuters) - More than 1,000 intellectually disabled girls and young women have been illegally sterilised in Australia since 1991, according to a human rights report released on Monday.
The report released by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission found that 1,045 sterilisation operations had been officially registered since 1991, yet only 17 of these were court approved.
After a 1992 court ruling involving a girl called Marion who was sterilised against her will, only a court can authorise sterilisation operations for a child. The ruling allows hysterectomies and tubal ligations only after less invasive treatment has failed.
The only time a child can be sterilised without court approval is when the procedure is a by-product of surgery to treat a malfunction or disease.
But the report warned that the real number of sterilisation operations of intellectually disabled girls could be ``several times'' higher because it only counted operations that qualified for financial support under the Australian government's medical insurance system.
It said there was evidence the child sterilisation law was being ``deliberately flouted,'' with operations disguised, due to the financial burden on families in seeking court approval.
Disability Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Hastings said the report provided strong evidence of ``disturbing breaches of human rights.''
``This surgery is occurring far more often than those rare cases where it is required for urgent medical reasons,'' Hastings told reporters on Monday.
``It seems clear that the practice of sterilisation is being undertaken without effective accountability and is happening unlawfully,'' Hastings said.
``I think it is a very serious problem. All people have a universal right to integrity of the body and illegal operations are a form of assault.''
Hastings said sterilisation was wrongly seen by some parents as a solution to menstruation problems faced by intellectually disabled girls, as well as unwanted pregnancies and mood swings.
``It doesn't solve a lot of the family-based problems relating with assisting the young woman with an intellectual disability with her ordinary bodily functions,'' she said.
``People do it because of problems they anticipate with menstruation and usually they don't know there are programmes in place that they can use.''
``Some forms of sterilisation surgery will in fact have quite long-term physical health effects on women, osteoporosis and heart disease.'' ^REUTERS@
22:38 12-14-97

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