From ................ National Catholic Reporter

December 20, 1996

pages 9-10


The secretary-general of the Peruvian bishops' conference has accused Peruvian health authorities of conducting a forced sterilization campaign among Andean peasants.

Bishop Luis Armando Bambaren Gastelumendi of Chimbote made his denouncement in a letter to Dr. Ulises Jorge Aguilar, health director for the central Andean region of Chavin.

Bambaren had made pastoral visits to mountain areas in the northern Andes populated mostly by Quechua speaking native peasants. He claimed to have "consistent proof that confirms peasant women are forced to go through 'family planning' before getting any health treatment at local hospitals," even in emergency situations.

Sterilization has been legal in Peru since late 1995. However, the law was meant to be valid only in cases of "free and voluntary" requests from patients. But the health department of Chavin mandates a number of women "who must be sterilized before the end of the present year," Bambaren wrote to Aguilar.

According to Bambaren, physicians sterilize women without their permission or the permission of their husbands; physicians do not let their patients know that sterilization surgery is irreversible; and state doctors operate on women in unsafe and dirty conditions.

"The struggle against poverty does not consist of eliminating poor people, but in working for their dignity, responding to their fundamental rights: life, health, education, work, food," the bishop's letter said.