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Trans sterilisation law must be struck down, says legal watchdog

Finland’s law requiring sterilisation of transgender people before they can legally change their gender must be changed, says the Deputy Chancellor of Justice.

Jussi Mäki's exhibition of trans identity, transihmisyys, in summer 2018 Image: Jussi Mankkinen / Yle

Finnish lawmakers will have to alter a 2002 law requiring transgender people are sterilised before they can have their new gender legally recognised, according to the Deputy Chancellor of Justice.

Maija Sakslin ruled on a complaint about lengthy queues for treatment at Helsinki University Hospital’s gender identity clinic, where queues have lengthened in recent years.

The legal watchdog added that current rules on age eligibility should be reassessed as well. Rather than demanding transgender people turn 18 before their gender is recognised, Sakslin says it would be better to talk about the child’s age, level of development and best interests.

Finland’s current law, says Sakslin, is at odds with judgments handed down by the European Court of Human Rights. In the ruling Sakslin urged Finland’s Ministry for Social Affairs and Health to look at amending the law, setting them a deadline of March 2019 to report on their next steps.

"Finland is currently the only Nordic country where sterilisation is still a requirement for a person seeking legal recognition of their gender," read the decision.

Seta: Gov't running out of time

Finland's LGBTI community has long campaigned against the trans law, saying it violates human rights and lags behind other countries in gender recognition best practices. Kerttu Tarjamo, Secretary General of LGBTI organisation Seta, said that the ruling was important but not a final victory.

"It’s hard to say, the government has so clearly stated that they will not reform the law, even though they know the problems, so it’s hard to say if they will do something even after that," said Tarjamo.

Several ministers have spoken in favour of reforming the legislation, but the government has not done anything to advance the change and it has less than a year left in office.

"We will work as long as we need to, until the change comes," said Tarjamo. "If this doesn’t prompt the government to take on the reform right away, I am quite sure it will be on the agenda of the next government after the elections in the spring."

Finland votes in parliamentary and European elections in 2019, as well as possible elections to new provincial governments.