July 7, 2008
Trial of a Child Denied
Watch the program: Part 1 Part 2

My interest in the project started in 2003 with the publication of the Body and Soul report, which revealed that more than a hundred Roma women in 40 settlements in Slovakia had been coercively sterilized.

As a freelance photojournalist in Prague at the time, I pursued the story. I traveled to eastern Slovakia and met women living in ghetto-like conditions outside Presov, the third largest Slovak city.

In Svinia, a Canadian anthropologist introduced me to villagers and various NGO workers involved with trying to improve dialogue between the local Roma and Slovaks. I had never been in a Roma settlement before and was in awe of the conditions in which they lived as well as their hospitality and sense of community, the raw humanity largely untouched by globalization and technology.

Then events unfolded before me across central Europe. In 2005, Roma women started coming forward in the Czech Republic and in early 2007, the first of these women, Helena Ferencikova, looked set to win what would be a landmark case against the hospital that allegedly sterilized her without consent. I decided it was time to look into this case and discover what exactly was nagging me about it.

Filming began with Helena Ferencikova’s court case and continued through the course of the year as we gradually got to know the other people involved and started documenting the actions of a group of women in the eastern part of the Czech Republic who had initially come together for emotional support but eventually progressed into political activism.

As non-Czech speakers, director Michelle Coomber and I were reliant on translators, who happened to be two incredible journalists. Jan Stojaspal, a former Time Magazine correspondent, was able to interview politicians and medical staff involved while Karolina Ryvolova, a Roma studies major, deftly yet delicately approached the subject with the women.

These sterilized Roma women and their husbands were wonderfully accommodating. They allowed us into their homes and their lives and really opened up about their experiences and the long-term affects the surgery had on them.

This "Group of Women Harmed by Sterilisation," led by Elena Gorolova, were fairly media savvy and comfortable in front of our cameras, presumably because Czech news crews had been interviewing Gorolova and her colleagues for years about their plight. This was in contrast to Helena Ferencikova, who was extremely sensitive about talking with us. The charms of an American associate producer and his elementary Czech however, allowed us unprecedented access to both her and her husband in their home.

Although the documentary highlights the women, we also interviewed the doctors and governmental bodies principally involved in the majority of Czech cases, who were also very open in discussing the particulars of the Ferencikova case.

I had been advised by several journalists that the fundamental issue here was informed consent, albeit informed consent intrinsically linked with antiquated remnants of the Communist regime. Regardless, questions remained over the extent of modern-day eugenics and the spokesperson of the health ministry admitted that had this occurred in a country like the UK, medical staff would have been terminated. The issue is not simple however, and has many sides, as the personal opinion of a nurse regarding the Czech social benefit system reveals.

Michelle and I have been repeatedly told this isn’t the most glamorous topic for a debut documentary but the uniqueness of the women’s actions and the courage necessary to stand together against the authorities in a world where Roma are still marginalized, is very compelling, and strikes a chord at the fundamental essence of womanhood.

-- From producer Dana Wilson
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World’s Untold Stories showcases courageous correspondents telling intimate stories of society's most vulnerable people. Often gritty, always powerful tales that open our eyes to a world that is at times disturbing and captivating. Storytelling that is raw and unyielding in its impact. World’s Untold Stories will bring the viewer tales from all corners of the world, and shine light on activities almost never exposed.

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