Disability World
A bimonthly web-zine of international disability news and views • Issue no. 28 January 2007


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Sterilisation of Children with Intellectual Disabilities

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) is seeking your urgent support in relation to the Australian Government's recently released Draft Legislation on the Sterilisation of Children with Intellectual Disabilities.

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. A SCAG Working Group was formed after the 2003 meeting. In 2004, targeted stakeholders were asked to comment on an Issues Paper prepared by the Working Group titled Sterilisation of Minors with a Decision-Making Disability.

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA), the national peak organisation for women with disabilities, provided a detailed response to the SCAG Issues Paper (a copy of WWDA's 2004 submission is attached). WWDA's response 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.

It is with extreme regret that the Australian Government, through the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG), has ignored our pleas to respect the fundamental human rights of women and girls with disabilities, and has 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).

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).

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).

WWDA finds it greatly ironic that the Australian Government has over the past several years, participated in the development of an international human rights treaty on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – a Convention which aims to redress the profound social disadvantage of persons with disabilities and promote their participation in the civil, political, economic, social and cultural spheres with equal opportunities. This Convention recognises most fundamentally, that discrimination against any person on the basis of disability is a violation of the inherent dignity and worth of the human person.

Whilst actively participating in the development of this international treaty (UN Convention on The Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted 26 August 2006), the Australian Government has pushed forward with its intention to develop legislation which blatantly disregards the inherent principles of this Convention - the principles of dignity and justice; and the concepts of inalienability, universality and indivisibility of human rights. Clearly, the Australian Government has not understood the purpose of the Convention and with this draft legislation displays its apathy and lack of commitment to the human rights of women and girls with disabilities.

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) therefore re-iterates 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.

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) seeks your support on this most urgent issue.

Yours Sincerely
Annie Parkinson
WWDA President

Contacts for State/Territory Attorney's General & Standing Committee of Attorney's General (Scag)

State/Territory Attorney's General
Hon Bob Debus
Attorney General NSW
bob.debus@debus.minister.nsw.gov.au

Hon Steven Kons
Attorney General TAS
steven.kons@justice.tas.gov.au

 Hon Kerry Shine
Attorney General QLD
attorney@ministerial.qld.gov.au

Hon Rob Hulls
Attorney General VIC
rob.hulls@parliament.vic.gov.au

Hon Simon Corbell
Attorney General ACT
corbell@act.gov.au

Hon. Michael Atkinson
Attorney General SA
croydon@parliament.sa.gov.au

Hon Jim McGinty
Attorney General WA
jim-mcginty@dpc.wa.gov.au

Hon Syd Stirling
Attorney General NT
minister.stirling@nt.gov.au

Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG)
Members,
Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG)
c/- SCAG Secretariat
Attorney-General's Department
Goodsell Building
8-12 Chifley Square
SYDNEY  NSW  2000
Ph: 02 9228 8063 or 02 9228 7313
Fax: 02 9228 8563

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