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Gender and Health in Latin America: Committee Hearing, Sterilization (Peru)


Eugenics, defined as controlled human reproduction based on notions of desirable and undesirable populations or genotypes, have gained attention predominantly in the context of European fascist regimes that aimed at eliminating or controlling populations. Hitler’s campaign to eliminate Jews is perhaps the best known case in recent history. The concept of eugenics, however, has (re-)appeared in many different settings.

These published transcripts of Congressional Hearings on Human Rights document the voices of women who have experienced attacks on their health and human rights as a result of sterilization campaigns. These women’s personal experiences with sterilization programs in Peru provide insight into healthcare programs that have discriminated against particular groups in Latin America. These Congressional Testimonies reveal a number of assumptions about the characteristics of the population targeted in the sterilization programs, and suggest that there is evidence of human rights violations in the women’s stories.

This source is a part of the Gender and Health in Latin America, 1980-2010 teaching module.


Sra. Victoria Esperanza Vigo Espinoza
Congressional Hearing Testimony
Wife and mother
February 25, 1998
House Committee on International Relations
Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights

It is very important to say that before the tubal ligation, it was very difficult for me to conceive children because of hormonal problems. I took pills to regulate my menstrual cycle and for fertility, and so became pregnant

On the 23rd of April, 1996, I went to a private clinic. I had been having spotting, but did not think it very important because there was very little blood. I was at 32-33 weeks of pregnancy. Then, since I was on Social Security, I preferred to go to the hospital, and the doctor transferred me there. I did not have any family members with me, but went with a friend. An obstetric nurse in training admitted me. She told me to wait for the intern, who would be coming down. I told the intern my situation, that I had a great deal of pain. During that time, I was in great pain. The nurse asked “How many children do you have?” I responded “This is the third” and she said, “Are you going to be sterilized?” I didn’t answer, because I wasn’t interested, and was feeling great pain.

So they prepared to operate on me. The intern asked, “Do you have any family here?” “No,” I responded, and I signed without reading, because of the pain. They did a Caesarean on me. On the afternoon of the next day, when I wanted to see my child, they told me he was dead. The intern came with my doctor. I said, “I want to go home now.” The intern said, “She is very sad because her child died.” My doctor then said, “You will have another child” to help calm me down. But I heard the intern whisper. “No, she is ligated.”

In the afternoon, the obstetric nurse on all came in to take my blood pressure. I said, “Please, they say that I have been sterilized?” She went to find the intern, and he said, “Yes, they performed a ligation on the lady.” Later, the intern came and said “Forgive me for what has happened. I feel guilty.”

I left on the third day. I felt completely defeated, depressed about never having more children, and went to see a psychiatrist to overcome the depression. And I still have faith that I may one day have more children.

It’s rare for a case like mine to come to light, even though I know my rights. But if it was so difficult for me, living in the city, where there is help available, and education, to make a formal complaint, it is seven times harder for the poor people in the countryside to lodge complaints, because they do not know their rights.

Avelina Sanchez Nolberto
Congressional Hearing Testimony
Occupation: Unemployed
25 February 1998
House Committee on International Relations
Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights

As a poor mother of five under age children and separated from my husband who also lives in the city of Andahuaylas, I wash clothes to support myself and the children. During my work activities I got to know an obstetrician who works in the Social Security hospital of Ayacucho. I confided in her about the problems I had run into with my husband. Then she spoke to me about tubal ligation and of course, I was against it, but after so many demands she convinced me, adding that my husband could come back at any moment and would once again fill me with children.

So on the 16th of October 1996 a worker, the sister of the obstetrician, arrived at my house telling me that it was free and I should take advantage of the opportunity since specialists from the Social Security hospital in Lima had arrived. I resisted saying that I had to go to the market to cook lunch for my small children who were studying in school. I went to the market and stayed a long time. Upon my return I found her outside my house and she intercepted me saying that I was already scheduled for a ligation and that they would take me by taxi. That is how I arrived at the hospital practically against my will without any of my girls going in with me. This lady took charge of all the business in the hospital. This was the way I had the surgical intervention of a tubal ligation.

After the operation I was not able to recover. My stomach swelled and I had the sensation that all my intestines were burning. I could not expel intestinal gas. It was three in the afternoon on October 17th 1996. Then I began to worry because I entered the hospital totally healthy. When I went to the obstetrician to complain about my state of affairs, she became very insolent and said that she had nothing to do with this, and she had the audacity to tell me, “Don’t be bothering me, as if I had dragged you in.” After that, my children came searching for me desperately when they did not find me home. They found me in the hospital and that is how I left still very sick.

In the night of October 17th 1996 I had terribly strong colic and my entire stomach swelled with a terrible burning sensation that I could not stand. So when I woke up my oldest daughter took me back to the Social Security hospital where they operated on me again on October 18th 1996. When my family started to inquire about my health status, what was the problem I really had?, no one could tell them anything concrete. When I was supposed to be asleep I heard the nurses whispering among themselves that when they operated to do the ligation they had cut my intestines. I was not able to recuperate so they tried again on November 10th 1996, but my condition kept deteriorating so they decided to send me on November 15th 1996 to the Social Security hospital of Lima at my daughter’s insistence. There they did a complete cleaning of my intestines because a greenish liquid had formed and the doctor told me that I had septicemia. I left there on December 12th 1996 returning to my city without medicines to continue my treatment. The doctors treating me refused to give me medicines when I asked because I have no insurance.

From that time I have not been able to recover, and given my precarious financial situation, I had to return to my husband so that he could look after the children. I still cannot go back to work like before. Relapsing again, I went to the hospital Maria Auxiliadara de San Juan de Miraflores in Lima on November 4th 1997. I stayed there to be treated for what the doctor said was a perforated intestine. This was very expensive and I owe the hospital but do not have the ability to pay them back or to continue my treatment because of the expensive medicines needed. I am desperate from this situation. I cannot work to support my younger children. My oldest daughter, 20 years old, is studying and doing domestic work and is supporting me as much as she can. Now I am staying in the house where she works and the lady here has very kindly agreed to receive me with my young girls of 7 and 11 years old, and I have been given a great deal of help to recuperate.


U.S. Congress. House. Peruvian Population Control Program, Hearing before the Subcommittee on the International Operations and Human Rights of the Committee on International Relations, 105th Cong., 2nd sess., Feb. 25, 1998, 52-55.

How to Cite This Source

"Gender and Health in Latin America: Committee Hearing, Sterilization (Peru)," in World History Commons, [accessed December 10, 2023]