Birth Rate in Israel’s Ethiopian Community Dwindling

Women say that while waiting in transit camps in Ethiopia they were coaxed into agreeing to injections of long-acting birth control drugs which likely accounts for a decline in their birth rate.
Women say that while waiting in transit camps in Ethiopia they were coaxed into agreeing to injections of long-acting birth control drugs which likely accounts for a decline in their birth rate.

By Talila Nesher,

WOMEN who immigrated from Ethiopia eight years ago say they were told they would not be allowed into Israel unless they agreed to be injected with the long-acting birth control drug Depo Provera, according to an investigative report aired Saturday on the Israel Educational Television program “Vacuum.”

The women say that while waiting in transit camps in Ethiopia prior to immigration they were placed in family planning workshops where they were coaxed into agreeing to the injection – a charge denied by both the Joint Distribution Committe, which ran the clinics, and the Health Ministry. 

“We said we won’t have the shot. They told us, if you don’t you won’t go to Israel and also you won’t be allowed into the Joint (American Joint Distribution Committee) office, you won’t get aid or medical care. We were afraid… We didn’t have a choice. Without them and their aid we couldn’t leave there. So we accepted the injection. It was only with their permission that we were allowed to leave,” recounted Emawayish, who immigrated from Ethiopia eight years ago.

Emawayish was one of 35 women, whose stories were recorded by Sebba Reuven, that relate how they were coaxed and threatened into agreeing to receive the injectable birth control drug.

The birth rate among Israel’s Ethiopian immigrant population has dropped nearly 20 percent in 10 years.

According to the report, the women were given the Depo Provera injections in the family planning workshops in transit camps, a practice that continued once they reached Israel. The women who were interviewed for the investigation reported that they were told at the transit camps that having many children would make their lives more difficult in Ethiopia and in Israel, and even that they would be barred from coming to Israel if they refused.

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U.N. News Agency IRIN quoted Hedva Eyal, the author of the report as saying: “We believe it is a method of reducing the number of births in a community that is black and mostly poor.”

“It is indeed the first time that the state actually acknowledged that this procedure of injecting immigrant women with this drug, when they do not know the side effects and are given no other choice, is wrong,” Eyal said.

More than 120,000 Jews of Ethiopian origin live in Israel.

For centuries, Jews in Ethiopia were largely cut off from other Jewish communities, and Israel’s religious authorities only belatedly recognized them as members of the faith.

The move sparked two waves of immigration to Israel, in 1984 and 1991, but Ethiopian immigrants have struggled to integrate into Israeli society, despite massive government aid.