No government policy will allow the forced sterilisation of any woman, for any reason, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said

Mkhize briefed a joint meeting of the Portfolio Committees of Health and Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities on the forced sterilisation of women living with HIV/AIDS in South Africa.

The Commission for Gender Equity (CGE) in February released a report on the matter, after an investigation prompted by a complaint it received in 2015.

The commission had sampled 15 hospitals in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, where most of the complaints were lodged.

The commission’s report found the practice was “cruel, torturous or inhuman and degrading treatment”.

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It said the complainants’ right to quality and freedom from discrimination had been violated, as well as their right to dignity, bodily integrity and freedom and security over their bodies.

Furthermore, the practice violated the right to the highest attainable standards of health, including their sexual and reproductive rights, the commission added.

It also found complainants were not provided with adequate knowledge about the sterilisation procedure before being asked to consent, thus violating their right to information.

Mkhize told the committees his department is taking the matter seriously.

“There is no policy in the department that would allow any woman to be forcefully sterilised for any reason,” he said.

He said this would only happen in rare, extreme lifesaving interventions.

Mkhize said: There is no policy in the department that would allow any woman to be forcefully sterilised for any reason.

The commission’s report didn’t give them “something that is concrete”, Mkhize said.

He added that it was a “difficult investigation” and some of the allegations contained in the report dates back to “many years ago” and its records are subsequently not readily available.

“As government, we will be at the forefront to ensure if there is any breach of human rights, there will be redress,” Mkhize said.

The director-general of the Department of Health, Sandile Buthelezi, said Mkhize wrote to the CGE on 19 August to request that more information relating to the complainants be made available, so the department could work on implementing the recommendations.

“During the same period, and after obtaining the names of the 18 whose complaints were investigated by the CGE, the minister wrote to all the affected hospitals’ CEOs to make available all hospital records and patients files, relating to the victims, directly to his office,” he said.

Of those 18 complainants, nine patient files were located, three of the patients’ names were in the hospital admission register, and six of the complainants could not be located through the hospital admission register and patient files.

Mkhize has assembled a task team, led by gynaecologist Professor Motshedisi Sebitloane, to:

  • Interrogate the patient files that had been obtained;
  • Review the patients’ medical history;
  • Check if consent forms had been signed;
  • Where a consent form was signed, interrogate whether it was medically reasonable and justified for those patients to be sterilised;
  • Identify the clinicians and healthcare workers that participated in the procedure.

The department has also reviewed its consent forms; experts have approved it.

The forms are being translated into all national languages.

One standard form will now be used across the country.

A standard operating procedure to be followed by all public health facilities for sterilisation procedures is being developed.

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