The Population Controllers and Their War on People
(Part II)

Steven Mosher
Population Research Institute Review
September-October 2002
Book: The War on People by Steven W. Mosher
Reproduced with Permission

The China Model

Two years later, in April 1991, Sadik made an equally breathtaking claim, gushing to a Chinese reporter that "China has every reason to feel proud of and pleased with its remarkable achievements made in its family planning policy and control of its population growth over the past 10 years. Now the country could offer its experiences and special experts to help other countries."1 She added that the UNFPA was going to help "popularize China's experiences in population growth control and family planning" in other countries.2

Those who wished to export the Chinese program, however, like Nafis Sadik, had a problem. Few governments were willing, and fewer still able, to implement the Chinese model in its totality. One of the few exceptions was Vietnam, whose government proved willing to accept the UNFPA's help in designing a "two-child" policy similar to China's, and which has a political system almost identical to its giant neighbor to the north. Today, just as in China, the UNFPA runs "model county" programs in Vietnam.

Although the Chinese model has proven difficult to export in its entirety, that hasn't deterred the UNFPA and other population control organizations from imposing the program piecemeal on other countries. Governments have been encouraged by the UNFPA and other population control organizations to adopt Chinese-style (1) targets and quotas, (2) bribes and punishments, (3) organizational structures, and (4) promotional propaganda. Where these techniques have been successfully transplanted, they have given rise to systematic coercion, even in countries lacking a high degree of control. All that is required for this to happen, as John Aird has observed, is "a politically inert, uneducated, impoverished population and an established pattern of bureaucratic authoritarianism."3 Quite a few countries in the developing world fit this description.

National Targets

China, in its effort to "control reproduction under a state plan," has been setting targets since the 1970s for all kinds of population indices. There is a target for total population, a target for the birth rate, and a target for actual numbers of babies born. There are targets for the population increase rate and for how much the population can increase in absolute numbers in a given year. There are even targets for how many third births can be allowed (few to none), and for the numbers of women who must be sterilized and contracepted. And of course the "one-couple, one-child" policy is itself a target for family size.4

Following China's lead, the UNFPA and other international agencies always insist that governments, at a minimum, set 10 or 15-year targets for family size and total population. Targets for such things as "number and percentage of contraceptive acceptors," or "numbers and percentage of women sterilized," are also pushed. Governments reluctant to set targets have been told by the World Bank and USAID that they will not receive grants and loans until they do.5 Targets and quotas, it should be noted, were banned by the 1994 Cairo population conference on the grounds that they always lead to abuses, but this prohibition has been largely ignored.

Bribes and Punishments for Officials

To keep its millions of population control cadres and officials on task and on target, China developed what it calls the "job responsibility system." Each year, officials at each level of government pledge in writing to their superiors that they will meet their assigned birth control targets and quotas. Those who do so receive public commendations and cash awards, and are slotted for advancement. Those who fail are publicly reprimanded and fined, and may even be demoted. Repeated failure ends in complete disgrace: Loss of Party membership and dismissal from one's post. Meeting targets is thus a career-makeror -breaker. No one should be surprised when Chinese officials pressure a pregnant woman into aborting an "over-quota" child, or lock up a mother of two until she "agrees" to sterilization. China's leaders certainly aren't: They designed the "job responsibility system" to ensure precisely this kind of outcome.6

Promoting the Chinese approach, international aid agencies such as the World Bank and USAID often make continued assistance to developing countries contingent on their attainment of family planning targets.7 National authorities, anxious over future funding prospects, then bear down on local officials, suggesting that assigned targets are to be attained by whatever means necessary, as happened in India. This approach has led Indian officials to compel submission to sterilization by withholding food rations, confiscating salaries, issuing strongly worded threats, and even resorting to the out-and-out use of physical force.8

Population Control Abuses Travel Outside of China

The Chinese practice of giving local administrators public commendations and awards for their achievements has also led to abuses in places like in Bangladesh, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Even national goals that have been set (with foreign encouragement) "for planning purposes only" have encouraged compulsory measures when local officials are judged on how well they meet them.9 Regional leaders in Indonesia may have imagined that they were only setting "planning" targets for numbers of contraceptive acceptors in their areas, but when local officials were then held responsible for maintaining them, massive abuses ensued.10

Bribes and Punishments for Families

Heavy pressure is brought to bear directly on families by a combination of bribes, threats, and punishments. Those who go along with the one-child policy are promised that their children will have preferential access to inoculations, education, and employment. Those who break the rules are not only denied such benefits (which adversely affects the welfare of their children), but are threatened with extraordinarily heavy fines. According to regulations adopted in 1991 in Beijing municipality, the penalties for having a second child range from 5,000 to 50,000 yuan, and for having a third 20,000 to 100,000 yuan.11 Considering that the average rural family earns less than 1,000 yuan a year, fines of such magnitude seem spectacularly out of proportion, until one realizes that their true purpose is to deter couples from continuing out-of-plan pregnancies and submit to abortions. As incomes have risen in China, so have the fines been escalating, having been increased again as recently as 2002.12 They are deliberately kept so high as to be virtually unpayable.

Chinese-style threats and fines have been adopted in Indonesia, for example, where in the 1980s Balinese Hindus who refused to use birth control were threatened with expulsion from their villages.13 Even incentives can have the force of compulsion if they relate to vital necessities, as happened in Peru under the infamous sterilization campaign of dictator Alberto Fujimori.14 Poor, hungry women were told that to qualify for free food, or to receive needed medical care, they must submit to sterilization. Similar abuses occurred in Bangladesh in recent years, where the Chinese model has explicitly been held up as one to be emulated.15

Group Pressure Tactics

To further discourage couples from having children outside the plan, the Chinese government deliberately generates "peer pressure" against potential rule breakers by means of group rewards and punishments. Heilongjiang province, for example, bowed to peasant desires for sons (and rising rates of female infanticide) by announcing in 1988 that it was partially relaxing the one-child policy in the villages, but only if everyone cooperated. Rural couples whose first child was a boy would still have to stop at one. Couples whose first child was a girl would get a second chance at a male heir, but on one condition: There could be absolutely no unauthorized births in their village.16 Neighboring Liaoning province adopted a variant of the same policy, requiring that a village have no unauthorized births and all of its married women on birth control before it could qualify for second births. If even one illegal baby was born, all second births would be forbidden that year. The policy was said to have "strengthened group awareness" among Liaoning's peasants17. No doubt it did, for it forced families expecting legal second children to be constantly alert for women pregnant outside the plan. For if even a single slacker gave birth, then they would all have to have abortions. It is hard to imagine the intense hostility, even hysteria, that this policy would generate in a small, tightly knit rural community toward anyone who threatened to break the rules. No wonder the head of China's State Family Planning Council, Ms. Peng Peiyun, publicly praised this pressure tactic as a way of "tightening up" family planning work, recommending that it be implemented throughout the country.18

Similar tactics are used in the cities, where the one-child policy continues to be strictly enforced. Workers in a given factory or department are denied bonuses, awards, expansion plans, and other benefits if even one of their number has an unauthorized child. Women who get pregnant outside the plan are immediately ostracized by their fellow workers and put under tremendous pressure to abort.19 As a result, as China demographer John Aird has observed, in urban China compliance with the one-child rule is almost total.20

These Chinese group pressure tactics have been put to effective use elsewhere. In India, some villages have been denied access to irrigation water at subsidized prices until they came up with the required number of sterilizations.21

Long-Term Contraception/Sterilization

From the beginning of the one-child policy, the Chinese authorities have followed a simple rule: Sterilize or implant IUDs in a woman after the birth of her first child; sterilize her after the birth of her second. The advantage for China's family planning officials of such methods is obvious: They no longer have to maintain constant surveillance over women of childbearing age to make sure that they are not trying to start an unauthorized pregnancy or concealing one. In China the government-run clinics will remove an IUD on request only if it is causing severe side-effects, and then only if the woman agrees to use another birth control method, preferably a long term implant like Norplant or an injectable like Depo-Provera. For a woman to remove her own IUD is defined as a criminal act. Those who wish to do so must rely on illegal operations that often involve dangerous methods and unsanitary conditions. Back-alley IUD removals, one might call them.

This component of the Chinese program has proven so successful in China that it is becoming a standard feature of family planning programs worldwide. This shift from contraceptives, such as birth control pills and condoms, that are controlled by the user, to more permanent measures -- intrauterine devices, sterilization, and long-term implants and injectables -- more easily imposed on the user, has been underway for two decades now. The result has been a marked decrease in the freedom of couples in the developing world to decide for themselves the number and spacing of their children.

Women pressured into adopting such measures may change their minds later, but there is often little they can do about it, especially if the family planning clinics refuse to reverse the sterilization or remove the IUD, or charge exorbitant fees for doing so. In Bangladesh and Haiti women suffering from acute side-effects from Norplant implants accepted as part of an "experimental" program were reportedly told the device could not be removed.22 Too poor to seek alternate medical care, they had no choice but to endure their debilitating chemical sterilization until the five-year implant had run its course.

Promotional Propaganda

China's state-controlled media has bombarded the Chinese for a quarter century with anti-people propaganda, to the point where many otherwise educated Chinese believe the Party when it claims that China's principal problem is too many people (rather than, say, absence of democratic rule, massive official corruption, lack of the rule of law, insecure property rights, etc., etc.) Dissenting voices are not tolerated. In January 1994 two Chinese newspapers were reportedly punished for printing articles favoring second births and "opposing family planning."23

The Chinese are constantly told that the country's demographic situation is "grim," that economic progress is imperiled, and that even the food supply is in grave danger because of excessive population growth.24 Not only does the government propaganda machine constantly churn out claims that population control is vital to China's continued economic development in the long run, it insists that even failing to meet current targets will mean social and economic ruin for the whole country. Thus does the propaganda help to justify coercion. Even if Chinese couples were not subject to compulsion where the bearing of children was concerned, the constant barrage of propaganda ("persuasion," in Chinese Communist parlance) would forge anti-natal fetters on their minds.

One-Sided Propaganda

One-sided propaganda does not require a controlled press. In much of the world, all it requires is money. Even in democratic countries, including the United States, media discussion of population problems is dominated by the deep pockets of the anti-people movement. Literally tens of millions of dollars are spent each year by the movement to convince the world's press -- and through them the world's people -- of the gravity of the "population crisis." The UNFPA alone devotes approximately $25 million, or 10 percent of its quarter-billion dollar budget, to conjuring up specters of calamity and catastrophe. This headline-grabbing effort has paid off, as the U.S. media has repeatedly run with the UNFPA bad news bears:

  1. "The United Nations yesterday asked people everywhere to pause July 11 [1987] and contemplate the bleak future of Baby 5 Billion, the child whose birth will push the Earth's population over the 5 billion mark."
  2. "Nutrition levels are dropping and infant mortality may once again be on the rise." [1987]
  3. "'The world's population is growing by three people every second. And unless this is curbed, most gains so far achieved and improving quality of life will be swept away,' the U.N. Population Fund said today."
  4. "U.N. report warns of population 'catastrophes.'"
  5. "U.N. says 4 billion will be living in hunger by the year 2050." [2001] [This is many times higher than the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) would claim or project.]25

Propaganda Means Money

In the U.S. and other developed countries, the purpose of such propaganda is to generate popular and political support for more population control programs. Even when these efforts fail, as when the Bush administration announced in 2002 that it would no longer fund the UNFPA, the major media accepted that organization's sob story that it was an innocent victim of U.S. abortion politics. The incontrovertible fact that it was deeply involved in real abuses in China was largely ignored.

In the developing world, as in China, such propaganda has a different purpose: It is designed to directly affect couples' reproductive behavior by predisposing them not to have additional children, and thus help meet national targets. As John Aird has noted, "[Such] one-sided propaganda . . . does not meet international standards for "freedom of information" and would not even if the contraceptive decisions of individual... couples were entirely voluntary."26

The UNFPA in China Today

The controllers' symbiotic relationship with Chinese-style family planning continues. Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, newly appointed executive director of the UNFPA, told a PRC journalist in January 2002 that "China, having adopted practical measures in accordance with her current situation, has scored remarkable achievements in population control. In recent years, the UNFPA and China have carried out a series of favorable and positive cooperation with more than 100 cooperative items of assistance established in the country."27

The most curious development occurred in 1998, when the UNFPA announced that it had been invited by the Chinese government to set up "model family planning programs" in 32 of China's counties, or county-level municipalities. Nafis Sadik, then-director of UNFPA, let it be known that the Chinese government had agreed to suspend the one-child policy during the next four years. In her words, "In the project counties couples will be allowed to have as many children as they want, whenever they want, without requiring birth permits or being subject to quotas."28 In a later letter to the U.S. Congress about the new program, Sadik was even more specific. Within the UNFPA's 32 model counties, she said,

  1. reproductive health programs are fully voluntary;
  2. women are free to voluntary select the timing and spacing of their pregnancies;
  3. targets and quotas have been lifted;
  4. abortion is not promoted as a method of family planning;
  5. coercion does not exist.

Although her claim to have set up a "no-coercion zone" in China was later to be proved false by Population Research Institute investigators, it was by itself a remarkable, if backhanded, admission of the real state of affairs in China. For up to that point it had been the steadfast position of the Chinese government -- maintained also by the UNFPA itself -- that the one-child policy neither relied upon birth quotas and targets, nor required parents to obtain a birth permit prior to having a child. Anyway, why would the Chinese government abandon controls that had successfully driven down the birth rate for two decades? "The Government of China is keen to move away from its administrative approach to family planning to an integrated, client-centered reproductive health approach," the UNFPA sought to explain.29 (italics added) But the Chinese government did not have to be sold by the UNFPA or anyone else on the idea of replacing direct coercion with the more subtle forms of threats, bribes and propaganda that the controllers commonly employ to stop Third World families from having children. Senior Chinese family planning officials have always urged their juniors to employ such techniques to meet their quotas, reserving forced abortions and forced sterilizations for the truly recalcitrant.

Josephine Guy Visits China

We at PRI thought UNFPA's claims to have defanged China's family planning program extravagant. So in September 2001 we organized a team of investigators, led by paralegal Josephine Guy, to go undercover into a UNFPA "model county." After four days in Sihui county, Guangdong province, Ms. Guy reported back that people had flocked to tell her about the abuses that they and their families have suffered as a result of still-coercive family planning policies. As she was later to testify before the International Relations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives:

We were told of efforts by many women to hide their pregnancies from government officials, in an attempt to escape forced abortion, so they could give birth to a child they desired. We were told of women having to hide their children, to escape retribution from officials for not having an abortion. We were told of the many so-called "black" children in the region who are born out of accord with local birth regulations. We were told of the punishments inflicted on those who wish to freely determine for themselves the timing and spacing of pregnancy.
We were told of the non-voluntary use of IUDs and mandatory examinations so that officials can ensure that women have not removed IUDs in violation of policy, and the strict punishments, which result from non-compliance with this coercive and inhumane policy.
.... The interviews we conducted were recorded in notebooks, on audio and videotape, and additional photographic evidence was obtained. The abuses we documented during this investigation are recent, ongoing, rampant, and unrelenting. And they exist in a county where the United Nations Population Fund claims that women are free to determine the timing and spacing of pregnancy.
At a location not far from [the UNFPA office], a woman testified that she became pregnant despite an earlier attempt by family planning officials to forcibly sterilize her. That attempt failed. She became pregnant, and was forcibly sterilized a second time by family planning doctors and officials. Had she refused, she told us on videotape, then family planning crews would have torn her house down.30

Everyone Ms. Guy spoke with had a story to tell -- a sister who had been sterilized, a friend who had been forcibly aborted. People spoke of women who had gone underground to save their babies, and of family members arrested and homes destroyed in an effort to force them out of hiding. Young women told of how they had been ordered in for abortions, because they had conceived children before the legal age of marriage.31 There is no voluntarism in Sihui, she concluded, despite UNFPA claims to the contrary.

Next Page: UNFPA Works Hand-in-Glove with Local Family Planners
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