Coercive Abortion in China: State Department Undercuts UNFPA's Claims

Steven Mosher
Reproduced with Permission

The U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) claims that voluntary family planning is sweeping through China, in large part because of its presence there. But the U.S. State Department's "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices," just released on March 31, 2003, confirms that coercion in China's one-child policy, including such abuses as forced abortions, is worse than it has been in many years.

In announcing its latest $15 million Country Program for China (2003-2005), the UNFPA trumpeted that "800 counties [in China] have instituted aspects of voluntary family planning, including the so-called 'client-oriented, high quality, reproductive health approach.'" (1)

The U.S. State Department, in its annual report on human rights delivered to Congress, begs to differ: "The Government [of China] continued to implement its coercive policy of restricting the number of children a family could have."(2) In one province, instances of coercive sterilization "increased significantly." In another province, rules state that "unplanned pregnancies must be aborted immediately." In another region, physical force by local family planning officials is used to carry out coercive abortion.

Country-wide, coercive methods include: 1. threat of job loss, 2. demotion, 3. fines, 4. psychological pressure, 5. withholding social services, 6. confiscation and destruction of property and 7. coercive tactics levied against local officials and work units, "creating multiple sources of pressure." According to the report, ethnic minorities suffer unique methods of coercion, "to limit births to the same number as Han Chinese."(3)

Not only does the State Department debunk the UNFPA's claim of widespread improvements in China's coercive policy, it directly criticizes the UNFPA's "model county program." The report notes: "From 1998 through 2002, the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) conducted a 4-year pilot project in 32 counties.. However, these counties retained the birth limitation policy, including the requirement that couples employ effective birth control methods, and enforced it through other means, such as social compensation fees." (4)

The State Department report also calls into question other UNFPA claims. The UNFPA, mimicking the Chinese government, touts the one-child policy as a means of stimulating economic growth and alleviating poverty. It boasts of "remarkable economic progress" and "improvements in people's living standards" because of "population stabilization" efforts in China. (5)

Au contraire, says State. "Official estimates of the number of citizens living in absolute poverty showed little change" with the Government estimating that 30 million persons lived in poverty and the World Bank, using different criteria, estimating the number to be 100 to 150 million persons." (6) The latest State Department report on human rights in China marks a sharp departure from the sugar-coating of UNFPA projects found in Clinton-era reports. The 1998 report, for example, gave credence to the UNFPA's newly implemented 32 county program by featuring the alleged "voluntary measures" employed therein, and by emphasizing the supposedly salutary effects of population control on "economic development." (7) Echoing the UNFPA's line, the State Department claimed that "only voluntary measures would be permitted in project counties." (8) The following two years, 1999 and 2000, the State Department reported "mixed" progress in UNFPA's program, noting that the government of the PRC has welcomed foreign delegations to inspect the UNFPA project counties. (9)

In the 2001 report, released in early 2002, the State Department continued to maintain that targets and quotas had been lifted in UNFPA project counties, and that "local officials must [emphasis added] address family planning and reproductive health issues solely through the use of voluntary measures."(10) The report even expressed gratitude to the Chinese State Family Planning Program (SFPC), the Chinese bureaucracy charged with enforcing the dictates of the one-child policy, for allowing women a choice of contraceptives. "Thanks to the shift in SFPC priorities, UNFPA reports that the number of women countrywide who make their own contraceptive choices rose from 53 percent in 1998 to 83 percent in 2000." (11) Not contracepting at all is, of course, not an option.

Last July, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell concluded that UNFPA is helping China to carry out its population program of coercive abortion "more effectively," in violation of U.S. law, therefore rendering UNFPA ineligible to receive U.S. funding. (12) The latest State Department report makes it clear that UNFPA's collaboration in China's coercive program continues.

The U.N. Population Fund will undoubtedly continue to describe its work in China as a "success. beyond expectation."(13) But that is only because their measure of "success" is the speedy reduction of human numbers at any cost.


  1. UNFPA, Country Programme for China, 31 October 2002.
  2. U.S. Department of State, "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2002" China, March 31, 2003, p. 2.
  3. Ibid. p. 12-13.
  4. Ibid, p. 13.
  5. UNFPA.
  6. U.S. Department of State 2002, p. 1.
  7. U.S. Department of State, "China Country Report on Human Rights
  8. Practices for 1998," released February 26, 1999.
  9. Ibid.
  10. U.S. Department of State, "Country Report on Human Rights Practices" for China, for 1999 and 2000, were released on February 25, 2000 and in February of 2001 respectively.
  11. U.S. Department. of State, "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2001," China, released March 4, 2002.
  12. Ibid.
  13. U.S. Department of State, "Analysis of Determination that Kemp-Kasten Amendment Precludes Further Funding to UNFPA under Pub. L. 107-115, July 21, 2002.
  14. UNFPA.