There is compelling evidence that the United Nations collaborated in the forced sterilization of poor, rural women in Peru from 1995 to 1997. But mud from the scandal is clinging only to the United States.
As the U.N. continues to pose as the conscience and watchdog of the globe, the U.S. is being battered for taking the proper position: namely, reducing its role in global family planning ventures.
The controversy revolves around Peru's National Program for Family Planning, which received funding from both the United Nations Population Fund and U.S. Agency for International Development. The Program included a campaign entitled Voluntary Surgical Contraception -- that is, sterilization. An estimated 100,000 to 300,000 people, mostly women, were sterilized.
Some Peruvian health workers reportedly received bonuses ranging variously from $4 to $12 U.S. for each woman they "persuaded" to have a tubal ligation. Doctors and hospitals were pressured to meet sterilization quotas. It's not surprising that reports and testimonials of forced sterilizations abound.
Felipa Cusi went to a rural clinic because she was suffering from symptoms of the flu. After being anesthetized, she was sterilized without her knowledge. Some women died as a result of such surgery. Magna Morales was kidnapped by health workers and sterilized at a makeshift clinic. Without follow-up medical care, she died 10 days later.
On Jan. 11, 1998, the Miami Herald introduced Magna Morales' story to its readership and accused the Peruvian government, then under President Alberto Fujimori, of forced sterilizations. In February, both the New York Times and the Washington Post ran articles repeating the charges.
That same month, Grover Joseph Rees, Staff Director of the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights, released a personal account of his visit to Peru. Rees confirmed the presence of forced sterilization.
His report recommended that the U.S. discontinue funding to Peru's family planning programs and disassociate itself from them. Rees went so far as to caution against expressing support of a billboard campaign that encouraged Peruvians to have small families. He worried that such support could be misconstrued as an endorsement of sterilization policies.
In short, although the U.S. must assume responsibility for funding Peru's policies, it also deserves credit for investigating the travesty and for trying to act responsibly. To his shame, Clinton continued to fund the UNFPA despite the stories of forced sterilization coming out of Peru and of forced abortions emerging from China.
Unlike the U.S., the U.N. has displayed no decency and assumed no responsibility. A July 26 press release captures the agency's response. It denies all charges and claims that the allegations are "being disseminated through the media by PRI [Population Research Institute], a fringe group that engages in a campaign against UNFPA in pursuit of its ideological opposition to family planning."
It is difficult to dismiss Hector Chavez Chuchon in a similarly ad hominem manner. The Peruvian parliamentarian and medical doctor told a subcommittee investigating the forced sterilizations, "The United Nations was aware of this policy; [U.N.] personnel worked in the health ministry."
In a June 2002 report entitled "Anticoncepcion Quirurgica Voluntaria" the Peruvian Congress added that, in the early 1990s, "[Fujimori’s] National Population Program established demographic strategies and methods explicitly restrictive and controlling; in this line, the United Nations Population Fund, known for its support of population control in developing countries, took charge. For that end, the United Nations Population Fund act[ed] as Technical Secretary, working in coordination with the National Population Council."
The report concludes that the "UNFPA increased their support and even participation in the task during the government of the ex-president Alberto Fujimori, especially in the period 1995-2000."
Abubakar Dungus, a spokesperson for the UNFPA, contends that the U.N. did not "learn" of the involuntary sterilization until "late 1997" even though reports of the abuse had been circulating in international and human rights circles long before. Upon hearing of the agonized testimony of brutalized women, the U.N. allegedly expressed "concern" to the Peruvian Ministry of Health. Unlike the U.S., it conducted no public investigation.
The Bush administration is both politically and morally correct in backing away from the UNFPA and its hypocritical, corrupt policies. Yet Bush is being excoriated for recently withholding $34 million dollars from the agency. The proximate cause was the administration's concern over U.N. complicity in China's one-child policy, under which women have been forced to abort. Now other nations are coming forward with tales of atrocities committed with the U.N.'s complicity.
At international conferences, the U.S. is being blasted for its reluctance to spill the blood of women in the name of reproductive health. A recent conference of Pacific-Asian nations bashed the U.S. for refusing to agree to finance their reproductive goals. A new report declared, "the text of the action [reproduction/family] plan due to come out of the Fifth Asian and Pacific Population Conference revealed the wide gulf between this region's governments and Washington: More than 40 countries except for the United States had agreed to endorse the plan."
Those "more than 40 countries" are wrong. They are pursuing the sort of bureaucratic control over women's bodies that led to the death of Magna Morales, who was as much as murdered because she wanted to have children.
America must not participate in the family planning of other nations.
Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the new book, Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada.