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'A mother's nightmare'

'A mother's nightmare'

After an emergency caesarean, Victoria Vigo found she had been sterilised - despite not having given her consent. Like many others who endured the same treatment, she is demanding justice.

"I wanted to have more children, but that choice was taken away from me without my permission - that was my decision to make not theirs."

In April 1996, mother-of-two Victoria Vigo was living in the hot, coastal city of Piura in north-western Peru.

"I was 32 weeks pregnant and I wasn't feeling very well, so I went to see my doctor," she says. "He sent me to hospital where I ended up in accident and emergency. They evaluated me and decided to carry out an emergency caesarean."

Vigo's baby was born with breathing difficulties, his premature lungs weren't properly developed and he died soon after.

This was going on all over Peru with doctors making decisions without properly consulting the women involved Victoria Vigo, Victim of forced sterilisation

"There was a doctor trying to console me saying: 'Don't worry, you are still young, you can have another baby.'"

But Vigo, who was then aged 32, then overheard another doctor say: "No, she can't have any more children, we've sterilised her."

Vigo is just one of around 300,000 people estimated to have been sterilised against their will in Peru between 1996 and 2000, when then-president Alberto Fujimori embarked on a family planning programme known as Voluntary Surgical Contraception, part of an anti-poverty drive.

In 1997, Vigo began her fightback against the authorities.

"It wasn't just about my rights, I soon realised that this was part of a national policy and there were many other women involved," she says.

"This was going on all over Peru with doctors making decisions without properly consulting the women involved."

After years of legal disputes Vigo eventually won her case and was awarded damages of approximately £2,000 in 2003. She is the only person in Peru who has received any form of compensation after being forcibly sterilised.

The men and women targeted under the sterilisation programme were usually poor, indigenous Quechua-speakers, many of whom signed a piece of paper written in Spanish that they didn't understand.

Fujimori had said it would be a progressive plan offering a wide range of contraceptive methods, including surgical sterilisation, which had previously been illegal in Peru.

"But the truth is that instead of promoting a range of contraceptive methods there were targets, quotas and numbers of sterilisations that the health personnel had to achieve," says Rosemarie Lerner, director of the Quipu project , which collects and shares the testimonies of people like Vigo who were forcibly sterilised in 1990s Peru.

Image copyright Science Photo Library

Quipus were an ancient recording system of threads and knots used by the Incas and ancient Andean cultures to keep records. "We have chosen the Quipu to symbolise this project because we too are recording oral information, prompting our collective memory to ensure that the sterilisations are not forgotten," the project's website says.

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