Comptroller to probe Ethiopian birth control claims

Knesset committee unable to determine whether officials coerced immigrants to receive Depo-Provera injections

Ethiopian women participating in a prayer service outside Jerusalem in 2011. (photo credit: Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90)
Ethiopian women participating in a prayer service outside Jerusalem in 2011. (photo credit: Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90)

Israel’s state comptroller said Sunday he would open a probe into allegations that Israeli officials coerced new immigrants from Ethiopia to take a birth control drug before being given citizenship.

The allegations first came to light last December, when Israel Educational Television aired an episode of the investigative show “Vacuum” in which several immigrants described the intense pressure placed on them to take Depo-Provera to keep their families small.

The women claimed Israeli representatives from the Joint Distribution Committee and the Health Ministry told them that raising large families is especially difficult, that it is hard for people with many children to find work and support their families, and that many landlords would not be willing to rent apartments to large families.

On Sunday, Comptroller Yosef Shapira told MK Orly Levy-Abekasis (Likud Beytenu), head of the Knesset Committee for the Rights of the Child, that the allegations will be investigated by a special division of the comptroller’s office dedicated to this issue, and he will form an additional unit to examine every detail of the case, should circumstances require that he do so.

Approximately 50,000 Ethiopian Jews have immigrated to Israel since the 1990s. During that period, the birth rate among this community, which has traditionally favored very large families, has plummeted by nearly 50 percent, according to the original investigative report.

Last week, MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Jewish Home), the head of the Knesset Health Committee, called on Shapira to intervene after the Knesset Research and Information Center was unable to resolve allegations that the women received the shots against their will.

In January, the director general of the Health Ministry, Dr. Roni Gamzo, instructed Israel’s four HMOs to institute new standards when renewing prescriptions of Depo-Provera for new immigrants from Ethiopia and all other countries. Gamzo stopped short of admitting any wrongdoing by the ministry, but he did acknowledge that many of the women who received the drug did not fully understand its effects.

Levy-Abekasis on Sunday said that she welcomed Shapira’s involvement in this sensitive issue, and she was “confident that his investigation will shed light on the many questions and the troubling data” that were raised in the Knesset Research and Information Center report.

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