State Comptroller to Probe Whether Ethiopian Birthrate Was Deliberately Lowered

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State Comptroller Yosef Shapira announced on Sunday he would launch a probe into the allegations that Ethiopian women who sought to immigrate to Israel were administered the long-acting contraceptive Depo-Provera with the intent of reducing birthrate within Ethiopian community.

The comptroller's announcement said that "it is possible that some of the women did not understand" what was at stake when they received the shots. The comptroller went on to explain that the decision to examine the use of Depo-Provera came in response to "appeals by female Knesset members, headed by chairman of the Knesset Committee on the Rights of the Child Orly Levi-Abekasis."

A special division within the comptroller's office will lead the investigation, and an additional commission will be established to look into the practice if needed.

Levi-Abekasis and several other Knesset members turned to the comptroller following a report by the Knesset Research and Information Center regarding widespread use of the injections in the transit camps in Ethiopia. The report revealed that a vast majority of women who took part in family planning workshops in the camps received the contraceptive shots. The study by the Knesset research institute presents worrying data about the conduct of the state in the transit camps.

The Knesset members called on Shapira to look into several aspects of the issue, including whether there was an institutional goal to reduce childbirth among the immigrants, and whether the women were made aware of the possible side effects of the injections and of other birth control methods.

On Sunday, Levi-Abekasis welcomed "the comptroller's decision to tackle this sensitive issue in a serious and thorough manner. I'm positive," she added, "that his report will shed light on the many questions and worrying data in the Knesset Research and Information Center report."

In December, Israel's Educational Television broadcast interviews with 35 Ethiopian immigrants who said they were forced to receive the injections, and were told that if they refused they won't be allowed to make aliyah to Israel and won't receive medical treatment.

"We were afraid, we didn't understand," said one woman. "These were matters of another country. We had no choice. Without them and their assistance we couldn't leave. That's why we agreed. We could only leave with their permission."

The Knesset report did not unequivocally prove that the injections were forced upon the women, but revealed that many women were administered Depo-Provera and that as result, the birthrate among women from Ethiopian origin in Israel significantly declined between the years 2008-2011. 

Women who made aliyah from Ethiopia taking Hebrew classes in Mevaseret Zion.Credit: Michal Fattal

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