India’s compulsory sterilization laws: the human right of family planning.

The Marharashtra Family Act requires that if a couple has 3 living children one of the parents be sterilized, unless the children are of the same sex.


Castetter DL
California Western International Law Journal, 1978 Spring;8(2):342-67.

The legislative assembly of the Marharashtra State, India, passed in 1976 a bill for compulsory sterilization which would limit families to a governmentally determined size. Such imposed prescription conflicts with the principle, recognized in 1966 by the UN, of the human right to determine family size, space children, and, most important, to have an awareness of and access to the means necessary to facilitate that decision.

This principle accepts the idea that merely providing contraception is an ineffective and deficient method to reduce population. Thus, in order to be permissible, any governmental limitation on individual freedom to determine family size can be imposed only subsequent to the actual and full availability of birth control information and methods.

The Marharashtra Family Act requires that if a couple has 3 living children one of the parents be sterilized, unless the children are of the same sex.

This Act, as written, exceeds the scope of permissible limitation to family size, since the Act fails to protect the individual’s right prior to sterilization. Indeed, there is no provision in the Act to ensure that the government will inform the people of the available methods of family planning prior to the imposition of sterilization. The existing structure of the Act, which has not been implemented yet, must be completed with a scheme for compulsory family planning education and for the provision of birth control methods before compulsory sterilization can be enacted. Without such amendment the Marharashtra Family Act will not be compatible with the human right of family planning, and continued UN funding in support of its population program would no longer be justified. The article includes the full text of bill No. 25 of 1976 for restrictions on the size of certain families in Marharashtra.

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