Forced sterilisations- what we know so far and what the law says

Dozens of women have been sterilised without informed consent, according to a newly released report.

These are your rights when it comes to sterilisation

A recent investigation by the Commission of Gender Equality into claims of forced sterilisation of 48 HIV positive women at public hospitals in Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal has brought the subject and the laws governing it into the spotlight.  According to the commission, “The complainants were not provided with adequate knowledge about the sterilisation procedure before being asked to consent.” According to the Association for Voluntary Sterilisation of South Africa (AVSSA) sterilisation is, “A procedure whereby a person could be permanently rendered incapable of fertilisation or reproduction.”

Tambo Memorial Hospital, Johannesburg. Picture: Facebook

These are the rights of women concerning sterilisation in South Africa:

  • A person capable of consenting may not be sterilised without giving their consent
  • Those capable of consenting need to be 18 years and older in order to give consent to have a sterilisation procedure
  • If a person is unable to consent sterilisation may only be conducted if:

A person who is entitled by law to give consent for the person who is not capable of giving it gives the consent.

An independent doctor has consulted with the person and written a medical opinion which points to sterilisation as being in the best interest of the person.

A panel authorises the sterilisation.

The person who receives a request for sterilisation or the head of the hospital must convene a panel to assess a sterilisation request.

This panel must consist of a doctor or psychiatrist, a psychologist or social worker and a nurse.

When it comes to sterilisation of a person, there are also a number of  associated factors that must considered before the panel agrees to the request. These include:

  • Your age
  • Your mental and physical wellbeing
  • The type of sterilisation procedure to be performed.
  • Whether there are other alternatives to sterilisation
  • What the effect of the sterilisation would be on you
  • Whether there will be any benefit to you because of the sterilisation.


In the case of a mentally disabled person who is not able to consent, the panel will agree to sterilisation only if the person cannot:

  • Make their own decision about contraception or sterilisation
  • Develop mentally to make an informed choice
  • Take on the parental responsibility of giving birth to a child.


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