An inquiry is grappling with the sensitive issue of sterilising the intellectually disabled. Photo: iStockphoto
A NSW mother whose intellectually disabled daughter was ''taken advantage of'' on a bus trip home from a leisure camp has told an inquiry she supports sterilisation on a case-by-case basis. The Senate inquiry is examining the forced sterilisation of people with disabilities.
It is unclear how widespread the practice is because official figures are unreliable and some cases may be slipping under the radar.
In a submission to the inquiry, the NSW mother said her daughter was 22 years old but had the mental age of nine.
Two years ago, the daughter went on a camp in Victoria for young adults with disabilities.
On the long bus trip home, after many attendees had been dropped off, the daughter was ''invited up the back of the bus and coerced into sex with a young man'', who also had a disability.
''I did not find this out from my daughter but from her care provider who overheard her telling another client,'' the mother wrote. ''After much questioning she told us … he specifically told her not to tell her parents.''
The mother decided to tell police, after much soul-searching.
''The policewoman was wonderful. My daughter told her everything and thankfully, the whole experience was not traumatic, as she told the police that she had indeed enjoyed it very much.''
The mother said if it weren't for the contraceptive pill, her daughter may have fallen pregnant.
''She was taken advantage of, plain and simple,'' the mother said.
''She did not have the mental capacity to understand that this guy was not being nice to her; he was being selfish and using her for his own gratification.''
The mother said sterilisation should be offered on a case-by-case basis. The Australian Human Rights Commission says children with disabilities as young as 10 have been sterilised.
The commission wants the practice criminalised, regardless of whether a child has a disability and if the procedure is undertaken on adults without their fully informed free consent.
The commission pointed to the story of a 34-year-old woman named Bella who has a mild intellectual disability and is still dealing with the anger of being sterilised without consent.
At age 12 her parents told her she was going to hospital to have her appendix removed, and was promised a doll as a reward if she behaved. Nine years later she was told it was her uterus, not her appendix, that had been removed.
Bella said she felt robbed.
''When I see other mums holding their babies, I look away and cry because I won't ever know that happiness,'' she said.
The United Nations considers involuntary sterilisation a form of torture and an act of violence against children.
Under Australian law, parents and guardians must apply to the Family Court for permission for non-therapeutic sterilisation procedures to be performed on children. Australian doctors can be charged with medical assault if found guilty of performing illegal sterilisations.
In 2003, Victoria's then attorney-general Rob Hulls, who was concerned about illegal sterilisations in his state, pushed for the issue to be on the agenda of a meeting of his state and federal counterparts.
A spokesman for the federal attorney-general's department said the issue was on the agenda at meetings of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General from 2003 to 2008.
He said the attorneys-general discussed it and there had been public consultation on model legislation, which did not proceed.
In another submission to the Senate inquiry, an Australian grandmother said she hoped her 15-year-old intellectually disabled granddaughter, who still wears nappies, was sterilised in the future. The grandmother said her granddaughter ''M'' has the highest-rated intellectual impairment - she cannot talk and is not toilet trained.
''One of the difficulties encountered by the family is her tendency to fingerprint or smear the contents of her nappy at the most inopportune times and places,'' she wrote.
''From this picture, you can imagine further problems when menstruation commences.''
The grandmother wrote that M's right to remain fertile was not one she could understand or make a decision about.
''M's life is currently very simple and happy, revolving around childish pleasurable activities,'' she said.
She is spoonfed pureed foods because of oral hypersensitivity and weighs 44 kilograms.
''As regards the physical possibility of childbearing, M's daily kilojoule intake with nutritional supplements is barely enough to sustain her alone, let alone a growing foetus,'' the grandmother said.
M will finish at a special school at age 18 and her parents have no idea what lies ahead.
''There are enormous concerns regarding the possibility of M being abused at some future date.''
She said the family didn't want to be forced to travel overseas to have M sterilised but conceded that might have to happen.
''We want her parents to rest easy in knowing they have always done the right thing by their daughter, and not have to face any guilt insinuated upon them,'' she said.
The Senate inquiry is due to report back on June 19. AAP