Members of the Finnish sign language society have argued that the state should take responsibility and acknowledge the abuses and encroachments on private life committed over the course of decades.
"(Forced) sterilization is a violent act and a serious human rights violation that has been tacitly accepted," Maija Koivisto, a teacher at the Deaf Folk High School, told the daily newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet, in her call for a reconciliation process.
According to the Marriage Act of 1929, the deaf were not allowed to marry each other without special permission from the president. This law remained in force until 1969. According to Koivisto, many deaf women were slapped with an ultimatum: get sterilized or forget about marriage.
However, it's now being acknowledged that some doctors continued to recommend sterilization to patients for several more decades. "Until now, I have assumed that the sterilizations continued until the 1950s and 1960s. But I have heard of a case in the 1990s when a doctor suggested sterilization for his deaf patient," Koivisto told Hufvudstadsbladet.
According to Koivisto, the church may have had a role in forcible sterilizations, something that has not been talked about so much. In Deaf magazine, two women testified that church staff had exerted pressure on them to get sterilized.
At present, no exact data is available on exactly how many deaf women were sterilized in Finland, a mistake Koivisto intends to rectify. The Sterilization Act of 1935 led to devastating consequences for at least 7,530 Finnish women.
Koivisto suggested that many circumvented the marriage laws by becoming pregnant, thus forcing priests to wed them. Nevertheless, some had to agree to sterilization after that. Others chose to 'live in sin'; cohabiting and giving birth to children out of wedlock was considered unacceptable at that time.
Koivisto ventured that the topic of sterilization has long been a taboo due to society's attitude involving shame. Additionally, sterilized women were often seen as "whores" as they could have sex without having to worry about getting pregnant.
Koivisto noted a general tendency to disregard the needs of the deaf in the past. In Finland, sign language was forbidden in schools during the epoch of "oralism" between 1880 and 1970, when deaf children were encouraged to read lips and articulate. According to Koivisto, this matter may be gender-related, as most politicians and all priests at that time were men.
According to Koivisto, the Finnish state should give the deaf victims financial compensation for the abuse.
"I think the state should promise that we can participate in all decisions that concern us and will work to improve the status of the sign language. The state should also grant funds for investigations within the deaf community, for instance for therapeutic purposes," she added.
Previously, Finland officially apologized for the mistreatment of children at orphanages and boarding schools. Last autumn, it was decided to form a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to gather information about the forced "Finnization" and discrimination that the Sami people have suffered. The Commission received over $1.7 million from the state budget.
Neighboring Sweden sterilized almost 63,000 people between 1935 and 1975, but later apologized and compensated the victims in 1997.
This year, the Japanese victims of a state-run sterilization program that targeted tens of thousands of people to prevent the birth of "inferior descendants," demanded an apology from the state.