WWDA Systemic Advocacy on the Unlawful Sterilisation of Minors with Disabilities (2003 – 2008)


Whilst Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) has worked for a number of years on the issues of unlawful sterilisation of women and girls with disabilities, the information provided here relates specifically to WWDA’s systemic advocacy on the Federal, State & Territory Government’s proposal to develop draft national, uniform legislation which sets out the procedures that jurisdictions could adopt in authorising the sterilisation of children who have an intellectual disability. The information provided here was prepared by Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) in March 2007. Copyright WWDA 2007.


Background

In August 2003, the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG) agreed that a nationally consistent approach to the authorisation procedures required for the lawful sterilisation of minors is appropriate. (The Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG), is the national ministerial council made up of the Australian Attorney-General and the State and Territory Attorneys-General. SCAG provides a forum for Attorneys-General to discuss and progress matters of mutual interest. It seeks to achieve uniform or harmonised action within the portfolio responsibilities of its members). A SCAG Working Group was formed after its August 2003 meeting to proceed with the task of developing a nationally consistent approach to the authorisation procedures required for the lawful sterilisation of minors.


Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG) Issues Paper 2004

In 2004, targeted stakeholders were asked by the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG) to comment on an Issues Paper prepared by the SCAG Working Group. The Issues Paper was titled ‘Non-Therapeutic Sterilisation of Minors with a Decision-Making Disability – Issues Paper’.

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) provided a detailed response to the 2004 SCAG Issues Paper. WWDA’s ‘Submission to the Commonwealth and State/Territory Governments regarding Non-Therapeutic Sterilisation of Minors with a Decision-Making Disability’ clearly articulated the organisation’s position on the issue, that sterilisation is an act of unnecessary and dehumanising violence which denies a woman’s basic human right to bodily integrity and to bear children and which results in adverse life-long physical and mental health effects. WWDA stressed that sterilisation can be justified only in circumstances where it is necessary to save life or preserve the health of the individual.

Since 2001, WWDA has called on the Australian Government to develop universal legislation which prohibits sterilisation of children (regardless of disability) except in those circumstances which pose a serious threat to health or life.


Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG) Draft ‘Children with Intellectual Disabilities (Regulation of Sterilisation) Bill 2006′

It was with extreme regret that, in late 2006, WWDA discovered that the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG), had ignored WWDA’s pleas to respect the fundamental human rights of women and girls with disabilities, and had proceeded to draft national, uniform legislation which sets out the procedures that jurisdictions could adopt in authorising the sterilisation of children who have an intellectual disability (Children with Intellectual Disabilities (Regulation of Sterilisation) Bill 2006).

Children with Intellectual Disabilities (Regulation of Sterilisation) Bill 2006 [PDF version]

Standing Committee of Attorneys General (SCAG) Issues Paper on the Sterilisation of Intellectually Disabled Minors (September 2006) [PDF version]

Standing Committee of Attorneys General (SCAG) Issues Paper on the Sterilisation of Intellectually Disabled Minors (September 2006) [HTML version]

One of the stated objects of the proposed Act is ‘to protect children with intellectual disabilities from unauthorised sterilisation procedures being carried out on them’ (Children with Intellectual Disabilities (Regulation of Sterilisation) Bill 2006). WWDA asserts that the correct and proper way of ‘protecting children with intellectual disabilities from unauthorised sterilisation procedures’ is for the Australian Government to act immediately to ban all sterilisations of children under the age of 18 years, unless the sterilisation is being performed as a life saving measure or medical emergency (WWDA 2001, 2004).

The United Nations also recommends this position. In considering the Australian Government’s second and third periodic reports on the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child made the following recommendation in its Concluding Comments Report:

In the light of the United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for People with Disabilities (General Assembly Resolution 48/96) and of the Committee’s recommendations adopted at its day of general discussion on ‘Children with Disabilities’ (see CRC/C/69), the Committee encourages the State Party to: e) prohibit the sterilization of children, with or without disabilities…’ (UN CRC/C/175/Add.268, 20 October 2005).

To date, it appears that the New South Wales (NSW) Government is the only State/Territory Government which supports WWDA’s position on this issue. In 2004, the NSW Government, through Attorney General Bob Debus, formally detailed its position to the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG):

…….The [NSW] Government supports the submission from Women With Disabilities Australia that sterilisation of minors with a decision-making disability should be prohibited except where there is a threat to life or health. Sterilisation is a matter for adulthood and should only be carried out in children for immediately needed therapeutic purposes……..NSW will not adopt any uniform legislation unless the Government is sure that sterilisation is prohibited except where there is a serious and immediate threat to health or life.’ (Hon Bob Debus, NSW Attorney General, 2004).

In recent months, in response to the Draft Children with Intellectual Disabilities (Regulation of Sterilisation) Bill 2006, WWDA has actively sought to re-iterate its recommendation to the Australian Government and the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG) that:

the Federal Government develop universal legislation which prohibits sterilisation of children except in those circumstances which amount to those that are a serious threat to health or life. In the case of adults, WWDA also strongly recommends that sterilisation be prohibited in the absence of the informed consent of the individual concerned, except in those circumstances where there is a serious threat to health or life.

WWDA has written formally to a wide range of stakeholders, both within and outside Australia, to not only raise awareness of the development of the Draft Children with Intellectual Disabilities (Regulation of Sterilisation) Bill 2006, but also to seek endorsement and support of WWDA’s position on the issue. Examples of stakeholders WWDA wrote to include:

  • every politician in Australia;
  • Federal, State, Territory Government Departments & Agencies – eg: Depts of Health; Disability; Justice; Women’s Policy; etc;
  • Federal, State, Territory Government Ministers & Shadow Ministers – eg for Women’s Policy; Disability; Attorney-General;
  • State & Territory Law Societies and Bar Associations;
  • State/Territory Commissioners for Children;
  • International and national human rights organisations;
  • National, State/Territory Advisory Councils – for Women’s Policy; Disability;
  • International, National, State/Territory Disability Organisations;
  • International, National, State/Territory Women’s Organisations;

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) Policy & Position Paper

In June 2007, Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) released its Policy & Position Paper on the issue of the forced sterilisation of minors, particularly in the context of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG) work on the development of uniform legislation to authorise procedures for the sterilisation of children with an intellectual disability.

To view WWDA’s paper go to: Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) Policy & Position Paper: ‘The Development of Legislation to Authorise Procedures for the Sterilisation of Children with Intellectual Disabilities’ (June 2007)

 


Responses to WWDA

WWDA has received a large number of responses to our recent advocacy work on this issue, and these continue to come in to the WWDA Office. Examples of the responses received to date are provided below.

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Submissions from Other Organisations/Bodies

Responses from Politicians

Responses from Other Stakeholders

Responses from Government Departments/Agencies