US & Canada

North Carolina sterilisation victims win compensation

Elaine Riddick sheds a tear as she talks to the media following the task force meeting 10 January 2012
Image caption Elaine Riddick was not told she was sterilised after giving birth

Victims of a decades-old sterilisation programme in the US state of North Carolina are to receive $50,000 each in compensation.

As many as 7,600 people were sterilised by the state from 1929 to 1974, often without their knowledge.

About half a dozen states have apologised for similar programmes, but North Carolina is the only one to consider financial payment.

The figure will have to be approved as part of the state's next budget.

The sterilisation victims were sometimes mentally disabled or institutionalised people.

However, a task force set up by North Carolina found that starting the 1950s the state increasingly focussed its programme - which the task force dubbed a "eugenics" programme - on welfare recipients.

This led to a "dramatic rise of sterilisation for African-Americans and women that did not reside in state institutions".

Dr Laura Gerald, the head of the task force, said in a statement that the compensation served to send the message that "we do not tolerate bureaucracies that trample on basic human rights".

'Crime against humanity'

North Carolina has so far verified 72 sterilisation victims, but about 2,000 are estimated to still be alive.

Melissa Hyatt, whose stepfather was sterilised, told the Associated Press that the task force "did what was reasonable as far as budgets and economy [allowed]".

"It's not really about the money," she said. "It's about the suffering and the pain."

Elaine Riddick said the sterilisation "took away something from me that was so valuable that I can never get back".

Ms Riddick was raped at the age of 13 and sterilised in the hospital after giving birth.

The procedure was done under the recommendation of a social worker who believed her "feeble-minded".

She has been a fixture at the task force meetings, and told the Associated Press she just wanted the issue resolved.

"They committed a crime against humanity," Ms Riddick said. "And all I can do is just accept what they said today and go on with my life."

Mike Marion, whose 59-year-old aunt was sterilised at 18 because she was seen as mildly mentally disabled, believes family members of victims who have died should be compensated as well. That request was declined by the task force.

"If you're going to admit wrong, admit wrong in its whole capacity," Mr Marion said. "By offering compensation to only the living, that's taking partial responsibility."

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites