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Forced sterilization of young women with disabilities must end, UN rights expert says

Disability rights

24 October 2017

NEW YORK (24 October, 2017) – Forced sterilization and other procedures infringing on sexual and reproductive integrity are part of a pattern of “systemic violence” being carried out on girls and young women with disabilities, and must be eradicated without delay, a UN expert on human rights and disability has said.

“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,” said Catalina Devandas, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of people with disabilities, presenting a report to the UN 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 Special Rapporteur said States were failing to protect girls and young women with disabilities from the outrageous pain and irreversible harm which is inflicted on them under the guise of “best interests”.

Sterilization, hysterectomies, estrogen treatments and other procedures were being carried out against their will at the request and with the consent of judges, healthcare professionals, family members or legal guardians, she said. 

Crimes against the sexual integrity and reproductive health of girls and young women with disabilities were persisting and being tolerated by society’s indifference to, or even trivialization of these gross human rights violations, Ms. Devandas said. As a result, there was a risk of people becoming trapped in a vicious and life-long cycle of violence.

The Special Rapporteur urged States to end this “systemic violence” by fully applying the human rights framework to the concerns of girls and young women with disabilities.

“States must immediately repeal all legislation allowing for the administration of any procedures impacting on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of girls and young women without their free and informed consent,” the Special Rapporteur said.

Sex education and health services had to be accessible to all women and girls with disabilities, to increase personal feelings of control and facilitate autonomous decision-making, she added.

“Girls and young women with disabilities are able to develop their own identities and realize their full potential only when their needs are met and when they feel safe,” Ms. Devandas stressed.


Ms. Catalina Devandas Aguilar (Costa Rica) took office as the first Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilitieson 1 December 2014. Her mandate recalls the universality, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelatedness of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and the need for persons with disabilities to be guaranteed the full enjoyment of these rights and freedoms without discrimination. It signals that further attention is needed to address the barriers that persons with disabilities continue to face in all parts of the world in their participation as equal members of society.

As a Special Rapporteur, Ms. Devandas is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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