Widespread forced sterilizations during the government of Peru’s former president Alberto Fujimori, supposedly in the name of progress, are at the center of an explosive new documentary out this week.
“They tied me up, and they cut me here,” said an emotional Micaela Flores, pointing to her belly, in the film “Paulina’s scar” by Manuel Legarda.
She was one of thousands of women who were subject to forced sterilization during his second term in office which began in 1996.
In 1996, Fujimori’s government started a reproductive health and family planning program that included tubal ligation operations that were supposed to be voluntary. Fujimori was convinced this would bring down the birth rate and help economic development.
But in time, reports started emerging that many authorities were skipping the consent part and forcing women to undergo sterilization — especially poor, rural, less educated and disproportionately indigenous Andean women.
Many women were threatened, tricked into undergoing the surgery and sometimes offered food in exchange for permanent sterilization. And some authorities were carrying out sterilizations in unclean, substandard conditions, victims charge.
According to official data 300,000 women underwent surgery under the program. More than 2,000 have filed official complaints and 18 died during of after the procedures.
“The doctors would go to people’s homes and tell women that they had to use birth control, that the president was going to take care of them, give them a monthly food subsidy, or pay for their education. If they said no, they were threatened and sometimes even kidnapped,” said Andean parliament lawmaker Hilaria Supa, one of those interviewed for the documentary.
“In Mollepata (southeastern Peru) doctors tied up ten women in a local medical clinic in a slum and would not let them leave until they had undergone the procedure,” said Supa, who noted that the family planning program had the financial backing “of the World Bank, United States and Japan.”
Supa said that some women were anesthetized “only to wake up with scars on their bellies and they did not know what had happened to them.”