Peru's President Ollanta Humala's government has denied a political motive behind its national registry for forced sterilization announced last week. Humala is pictured in 2011. Reuters/Mariana Bazo

Following the Peruvian government’s announcement Friday it would create a national registry for the victims of forced sterilization in the 1990s, President Ollanta Humala's administration sought to dispel accusations that the move was made for political gain, TeleSUR English reported. Humala is facing off in the 2016 elections against popular opponent Keiko Fujimori, whose father was president during the era in which the sterilizations took place.

Between 1996 and 2000, an estimated 350,000 people -- mostly impoverished indigenous women living in rural areas -- underwent forced sterilization under a program introduced by then-President Alberto Fujimori, who is now in prison for human rights abuses. Fujimori had argued for the sterilization program as a fix to eliminating poverty through lowering the country’s birthrate.

The Humala administration has said the new registry is meant to provide a legal framework to help implement services such as legal assistance, psychological treatment and holistic health for the victims. Both victims and political opponents in Peru’s Congress have said Humala used this issue in the country’s last election cycle to attack Keiko Fujimori during a presidential debate and then did little to pursue justice for the victims after winning the election.

“There is no political calculation. The only thing we seek with the creation of this record is justice for the victims,” said Ernesto Lechuga, deputy minister of human rights and access to justice. “We do not want to attack anyone; just looking for a way to justice.”

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Activists have called the forced sterilizations one of Peru’s biggest human rights scandals. Esperanza Huayama, a victim of forced sterilization, told Reuters that government health officials in the 1990s had gone door to door in her farming community, enticing women to come with them to a clinic for free medical treatment, where they were instead anesthetized and sterilized. Huayama was three months pregnant at the time. She said her baby was born dead weeks after the surgery.

“Women were crying and shouting because of the pain. We were cut quickly. They treated us like animals,” she said. “I didn’t sign anything. They tricked us. Nurses told us we had to go to the clinic, where we would be given a free health checkup, medicine and food. They said it was for our own good and well-being.”