Sterilization Bill: They heard us
One of AWARE’s key recommendations has been incorporated into the Voluntary Sterilisation (Amendment) Bill, as read in Parliament on September 10: an order from the High Court will now be required before the sterilisation of persons who lack mental capacity to decide on such matters can be carried out.
This need for a Court Order was one of the recommendations made in AWARE’s submission to the Ministry of Health (MOH) during a public consultation held earlier this year.
Specifically, we recommended that except in the case of emergency situations (where the procedure is necessary to save the individual’s life or to prevent serious deterioration of his or her health), the sterilisation of persons lacking in capacity to decide should always be decided by a court or an independent committee.
Sterilisation is a major, irreversible and invasive procedure that has profound life-long physical and psychological effects. A Court Order should therefore be a pre-requisite in cases where a person is deemed incapable of consenting to sterilisation herself.
AWARE applauds this change. The bodies and reproductive rights of women and girls with intellectual and developmental disabilities should be protected on an equal basis with others. We believe that by imposing more stringent requirements for the sterilisation of persons who lack mental capacity, the State is taking steps to protect these fundamental rights.
This is an encouraging sign that the State is serious about fulfilling its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which Singapore will be signing later this year.
However, we are disappointed that MOH and the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) did not take up AWARE’s recommendations on minors. The proposed amendments currently allow persons under 21 to consent to sterilisation for non-medical reasons, provided a parent, guardian or spouse also consents.
It is odd for the Bill to provide that a Court Order is necessary to authorise the sterilisation of persons lacking in mental capacity but not require this for the sterilisation of very young minors, who may also not be in a position to give informed consent to sterilisation.
More importantly, we believe that the Bill in its present form contravenes the State’s obligations under the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) as it does not provide for any requirement or mechanism to ensure that the decision is made in the best interest of the child. This is especially necessary where the child is very young. Click here for more details.
We have written to MOH and MCYS urging further consideration of our recommendations that a minimum age be set at which minors are deemed capable of giving consent for sexual sterilisation (together with her parent(s)/guardian), and that a Court Order or at least an independent committee decision should be required for minors below this age.
We also reiterated our recommendation that the Bill adopt the parental consent scheme set out in the Women’s Charter, rather than requiring that only one parent need consent to sterilisation. As well, we are writing to various Members of Parliament with our recommendations for the Bill.
AWARE is encouraged by the changes that have been made to the Bill, but believes that better protections have to be provided for minors in order for it to comply with the international conventions to which Singapore is a signatory. We hope to continue working with the State to promote and protect the rights of all women and girls.