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Involuntary sterilization.

When asked, the international agencies assisting the Bangladesh government in its population-control programs explain their role more or less as follows: International donors are helping the government of Bangladesh in a variety of family-planning services, including the construction of health offices, the dissemination of educational materials and the promotion of contraceptive methods, including voluntary sterilization. Nothing controversial there.

But a January 1984 letter which "Dispatches" obtained provides a revealing glimpse of the thinking of at least one official in the donors' bureaucracy. The letter, labeled "Strictly Confidential," was written by Walter Holzhausen, the Dacca representative of the U.N. Fund for Population Activities, to his superior in New York, Dr. Nafis Sadik. Copies were sent to other agencies involved, including the U.N. Development Program, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the World Bank. While Holzhausen allows that his views may be "too advanced," he argues that the concept of voluntary sterilization should be reconsidered because of "realities prevailing in some developing countries such as Bangladesh." From the letter:

None of the donors would [like] to be associated with a more forceful programme, particularly not the Scandinavian countries. . . . And yet, most donor representatives here greatly admire the Chinese for their achievements; a success story broought about by massive direct and indirect compulsion.

On the Bangladesh Government side, too, the voluntary nature of the family planning effort is constantly asserted . . . partly because no-one dares to openly talk differently. . . . I notice the intellectual dishonesty: for also Government officials constantly speak with admiration and envy of the Chinese successes. . . . you hear the almost unanimous view that drastic action is needed and that a new dimension needs to be added to the current "voluntary" programme. . .

Thus having a large family in Bangladesh is anti-social and contrary to the common weal and hence, a matter that deserves drastic Government intervention.

It is time for donors to get away from too narrow an interpretation of the concept of voluntarism.

The extent to which U.N., World Bank and A.I.D. officials share Holzhausen's views is not known. [See The Nation, Betsy Hartmann and Jane Hughes, "And the Poor Get Sterilized," June 30; and World Bank information officer Frank Vogl, "Letters," November 24, with Hartmann and Hughes's reply.] But Holzhausen's letter shows that at least some officials in the international aid agencies are drifting toward an endorsement of compulsory sterilization.

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Title Annotation:Dispatches - should sterilization be compulsory in Bangladesh
Author:Bird, Kai; Holland, Max
Publication:The Nation
Date:Dec 29, 1984
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