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Three women of Namibia who have been diagnosed as HIV positive were coercively sterilized in violation of their basic rights, the High Court in Windhoek found on Monday. The court case was first filed in 2010, and the women are expected to be awarded financially, though no specific amounts have been disclosed. The three women, in their 20s to 40s, all sought care at government hospitals in Namibia. All signed release forms that allowed doctors to sterilize them, though at the time they didn’t realize what they had agreed to, said Nyasha Chingore, an HIV project lawyer with the Southern Africa Litigation Centre. In one case, a woman signed a form that used only acronyms to describe the procedure, while another signed after being told she didn’t have a choice, Chingore said. All of the consent forms were signed while women were in labor.
The SA Litigation Centre (SALC) said the court ruled that obtaining consent from women when they were in severe pain or in labour did not constitute informed consent. The court further found that failure to obtain the three women’s informed consent violated their rights under common law.
“This ruling affirms not only the rights of HIV positive women but also of all women to access their sexual and reproductive rights,” said Nicole Fritz, executive director of SALC.
SALC said dozens of similar cases had been documented throughout Namibia but little action had been taken. “These three cases represent only the tip of the iceberg… HIV positive women have come forward alleging they were similarly subjected to coerced sterilisation at public hospitals in Namibia,” said Fritz.
SALC deputy director Priti Patel said the court’s decision was the first step in ensuring that no other woman would be coercively sterilised in Namibia.“Now the government must meaningfully investigate all the other cases to ensure justice for every woman who has been coercively sterilised,” she said.
UNAIDS estimates there are 180,000 people living with HIV in Namibia, a country of 2.1 million people. Sterilisation is a drastic tactic to used treat HIV positive women, as mother-to-child transmission of HIV/Aids can be prevented with medication.
Read more: AWID