Greenland women seek compensation over involuntary birth control
A group of 67 women from Greenland are seeking compensation from the Danish government over a campaign of involuntary birth control.
At least 4,500 women, some teenagers, were fitted with coils to limit birth rates among the indigenous population.
An inquiry is due to conclude in 2025, but the women, some of whom are in their 70s, want compensation now.
Greenland, now a semi-sovereign territory of Denmark, was a Danish colony until 1953.
The scale of the campaign was exposed last year in a podcast published by Danish broadcaster DR.
Records from the national archives showed that, between 1966 and 1970 alone, 4,500 intrauterine devices (IUDs) were fitted into the women, some as young as 13, without their knowledge or consent.
The government of Greenland estimates that, by the end of 1969, 35% of women in the territory who could potentially have borne children had been fitted with an IUD, according to DR.
The practice is known to have continued until 1975 but the BBC has learned that it lasted for many years after that.
One woman discovered she had been fitted with a coil when she struggled to become pregnant in 2009. Another told the BBC she had been injected with a contraceptive in 2014 without her consent.
A commission set up by the Danish and Greenlandic governments to investigate the programme is not due to deliver its findings until May 2025.
“We don’t want to wait for the results of the inquiry,” said psychologist Naja Lyberth, who initiated the compensation claim.
“We are getting older. The oldest of us, who had IUDs inserted in the 1960s, were born in the 1940s and are approaching 80. We want to act now.”
Ms Lyberth said that, in some cases, the devices fitted had been too big for the girls’ bodies, causing serious health complications or even infertility, while in others the women had been unaware of the devices until they were discovered recently by gynaecologists.
She accused the Danish government of the time of wanting to control the size of Greenland’s population in order to save money on welfare.
“It’s already 100% clear that the government has broken the law by violating our human rights and causing us serious harm,” she said.
The women are seeking 300,000 kroner (£34,880; $42,150) each.
Mads Pramming, the lawyer representing the women, sent a claim on their behalf to the office of Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on Monday.
Ms Lyberth said she expected the government to refuse the request pending the results of the commission, and that if it did the group would take the matter to court.
Last year, Denmark apologised and paid compensation to six Inuit who were taken from their families in the 1950s as part of an attempt to build a Danish-speaking elite within Greenland.
Greenland has a population of just 57,000 and is both the largest island and the northernmost area of land in the world.
The territory has its own flag, language and prime minister, and it took control over its health system in 1991. Its currency, justice system, and foreign and security affairs are still run by Denmark.
Greenland’s health minister told the BBC last year she was unaware that contraception was still being given to women without their consent, and in contravention of the law and ethics of care.