Between 1966 and 1975, Danish health authorities working in Greenland implanted intrauterine devices (IUDs), a form of contraception, in half of Greenland’s 9,000 women of childbearing age. Few of the women or their parents (some of those undergoing the process were girls as young as 13) granted their permission.
Brought to light this week by an investigative podcast focusing on the programme and its effects on the women who underwent the process, the point of the programme was to reduce the number of unmarried young women having children. In 1965, there were some 500 children born to an unmarried woman, a third of them under the age of 20.
In addition to their concerns for health and welfare of women and the children, Danish officials also feared that plans to modernise Greenland would be made more difficult — and expensive — if the population was growing faster than expected.
IUDs are intended for use in women, nevertheless, doctors involved in the programme told the podcast that they implanted them in girls, even though it could result in sterility later in life or other complications.
The programme had to be altered in 1970 when Danish authorities determined that they were not permitted to talk with underage girls about contraception without permission from their parents. A law change that year lowered the minimum age to 15, and, documents show, Greenland’s legislature was made aware of an assessment by doctors that the change allowed them to implant an IUD in girls between the ages of 15 and 18 without a parent’s permission. The same was true for girls under 15 who had been pregnant.
The programme led to fewer births, but the revelation has led to accusations that Denmark violated the reproductive rights of the women involved, and that the programme may have amounted to a violation of Greenlandic women’s human rights.
The Greenlandic Human Rights Council, along with the Copenhagen-based Human Rights Institute are now calling on Denmark to disclose the full details of the programme and to decide whether the women should be granted an apology on a par with other groups in Denmark and Greenland who suffered wrongs at the hands of the state.
One of those groups recently received a full apology from the Danish prime minister for being taken away from their parents in the 1950s — in some cases on false pretexts — and relocated to Denmark, where they attended Danish schools. Most were eventually returned to Greenland as planned, but they were not permitted to rejoin their families, and many suffered long-term psychological effects.
With the latest revelation, the Greenlandic Human Rights Council is urging Danish officials to scour the country’s archives to uncover any other potential violations of Denmark’s obligation to protect the rights of Greenland’s indigenous population in the period after Greenland’s status as a colony ended in 1953 and it became a Danish county.
Kevin McGwin, PolarJournal
More about this topic