Forced divorce and sterilisation: a reality for many transgender persons

councilofeurope_150x82.jpgA couple of months ago I reported on the Irish Government’s decision to drop its challenge to a High Court declaration that Irish law on transgender rights is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The challenge had originally been brought as long ago as 1997 by Dr Lydia Foy and in June 2010 she finally won her battle for legal recognition as a woman, and for a birth certificate that reflects that reality.

Now the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Thomas Hammarberg, has published a Human Rights comment on the final settlement of the case in Ireland, welcoming the decision of the Irish Government to introduce legislation recognising transgender persons in their preferred gender, including the provision of new birth certificates

Commissioner Hammarberg goes on to highlight issues of concern for many transgender people in Europe, such as the need to be diagnosed with an mental disorder, or being forced to be steriliszed and divorced in order to obtain official recognition of their legal status.

Ireland is not the only country where transgender persons have faced obstacles in obtaining legal recognition of their preferred gender. Some Council of Europe member states still have no provision at all for official recognition, leaving transgender people in a legal limbo. Most member states still use medical classifications which impose the diagnosis of mental disorder on transgender persons.

Even more common are provisions which demand impossible choices, such as the “forced divorce” and the “forced sterilisation” requirements. This means that only unmarried or divorced transgender persons who have undergone surgery and become irreversibly infertile have the right to change their entry in the birth register. In reality, this means that the state prescribes medical treatment for legal purposes, a requirement which clearly runs against the principles of human rights and human dignity.


All countries need to develop expeditious and transparent procedures for changing the name and gender of a transgender person on official documents, in accordance with the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights.

The full text of Commissioner Hammarberg’s comment may be found at this link


Curtsey to Richard at TGEU for the heads-up.