China's Persecution of Women and Children: More of the Same

Steven Mosher
By Joseph A. D'Agostino
PRI Weekly Briefing
20 December 2004
Vol. 6 / No. 40
Reproduced with Permission

New House International Relations Committee hearings chaired by Rep. Chris Smith (R.-N.J.) and held December 14 told the same old sad story: the Chinese government continues to persecute women who exceed their allotted quota of children. The same basic story has some new twists, however. Even domestic Chinese population experts now quietly admit that China's population control program coerces women. And, in a new low for the Communist Chinese regime, a peaceful protester against China's one-child policy, Mao Hengfeng, has been imprisoned and is being tortured. Beijing expects its women to submit quietly to the abortions and sterilizations required of them.

Depending on the region, Chinese couples are allowed to have one or occasionally two children. That's it. Any woman who has more than her quota faces heavy "social compensation fees" up to ten times annual household income in China and often the following: loss of employment, loss of some health care coverage and educational opportunities for her children, imprisonment, forced abortion, and legally mandated sterilization. Her husband faces the same with the exception of the last two. China, with approximately one-fifth of the world's people, has 56% of the world's female suicides and participants in the hearings said that they believed that the one - child policy contributes to that statistic. The World Bank estimates that Chinese women's suicide rate is five times the world average. "Five hundred women a day commit suicide in China," said Smith.

Leftist elites love to talk about the paramount importance of women's choices when it comes to procreation, but Western European nations and Canada couldn't care less about China's 30-year-old coercive population control program. Same for the United Nations and the International Planned Parenthood Federation. The U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) continues to assist China's population control program. And if any American feminist groups sent representatives to Tuesday's hearings, I didn't notice them. A check conducted December 17 of the websites of the National Organization for Women (NOW), the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) found nothing on the hearings, not even a little throwaway press release deploring China's abuses. NOW's website did have something on the plight of Sudanese women on its front page, and IPPF's front page did feature a link on China, but this couldn't have had less to do with the suffering of Chinese women: "More Than 80% of MSM in China Know Little About HIV/AIDS," the IPPF proclaimed. (MSM stands for "men who have sex with men" and may be an up-and-coming fashionable term preparing to replace "gay" and "bisexual," just as those terms have largely replaced the term "homosexual," which replaced "sodomite.") The silence of Western elites and leftist activists in the face of the massive and systematic abuse of Chinese women and families is deafening. Does anyone really believe that such people truly care about "choice" and "freedom?"

"China's one-child policy is still in effect, according to statements by Chinese officials, but in recent years articles in foreign media have sometimes asserted that the once rampant coercive family planning measures that sustained it have now become rare. . ." John Aird testified at the Smith hearings. "However, the Chinese domestic media present a rather different picture. Articles in Chinese professional journals and statements by high Chinese officials indicate that the program remains coercive. . . . In the last four or five years, foreign journalists in China have cited instances of violent family planning measures more extreme than any reported previously in the one-child policy's 25-year history." Aird is a former Senior Research Specialist on China at the U.S. Census Bureau and author of Slaughter of the Innocents: Coercive Birth Control in China (1990).

Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Arthur Dewey testified, "China's birth planning law and policies retain harshly coercive elements in law and practice. Forced abortion and sterilization are egregious violations of human rights, and should be of concern to the global human rights community, as well as to the Chinese themselves. Unfortunately, we have not seen willingness in other parts of the international community to stand with us on these human rights issues." He said that Chinese government officials have recently promised to roll back some of their coercive measures but noted that it is "practical implementation of these measures that matters, not public pronouncements."

Ma Dongfang gave testimony of her own experience with China's population control program. Few Chinese women are willing to do so publicly because even if they escape the Communist country, the relatives they left behind face retaliation if they speak out. "In 1988 I gave birth to my first child, and I was required to get a certificate for having only one child under China's one-child policy," she said. "In 1991, I became pregnant again, and I was forced to abort this child like many other women in China who got pregnant with their second child, because it was a violation of Chinese government policy. After the abortion, the doctor inserted an IUD device into my uterus without either my knowledge or permission. I soon became very sick as a result of the IUD and endured months of horrible pain and discomfort. I suffered excessive bleeding, weight loss, and fatigue. I begged the doctors to remove the device, but they refused to do so. If they had it removed, they would be breaking the law." Eventually, she fled to the United States and obtained asylum. Ma also told the story of another woman she knew who was forced to have an abortion when her unborn child was six months old. "Her child was born alive" during the abortion procedure, said Ma. "She saw him and screamed, 'He's still alive!'" Medical personnel killed the newborn infant.

Amnesty International is one organization that has taken notice of China's abusive program, sending T. Kumar to testify. Harry Wu, former Chinese political prisoner and executive director of the Laogai Research Foundation, also testified along with two other State Department officials, Michael Kozak and Joseph Donovan. In addition to Smith, Ranking Member Tom Lantos (D.-Calif.) and Rep. Tom Tancredo (R.-Colo.) returned to Washington to attend the hearing as members of the International Relations Committee. Lantos gave a statement before leaving the hearing room.

"As Mr. Lantos said, our allies in Europe and elsewhere don't seem to care about China's policy," said Smith. UNFPA officials, he said, have "whitewashed the crimes. They are like Holocaust deniers." He praised President Bush for denying American funding to UNFPA and said, "Since 1979, UNFPA has been the chief apologist and cheerleader for China's coercive one child per couple policy. Despite numerous credible forced abortion reports from impeccable sources, including human rights organizations like Amnesty International, journalists, former Chinese population control officials and, above all, from the woman victims themselves, high officials at UNFPA always dismiss and explain it all away. UNFPA has funded, provided crucial technical support and, most importantly, provided cover for massive crimes of forced abortion and involuntary sterilization."

As for Mao Hengfeng, she is in a Re-education Through Labor (RTL) camp in China, where she is being tortured according to reports from Human Rights in China. "In RTL, credible sources report that in August she was beaten, and that camp police have bound Mao's wrists and ankles with leather straps and pulled her limbs apart for a period of two days to force Mao to acknowledge wrongdoing," said Smith. "On November 19, she lost an appeal in a Shanghai court to receive welfare payments but was seen with blood-blisters and swelling around her wrists and ankles, indicating ongoing abuse. More recently, family members report she is being force-fed an unidentified medicine which turns her mouth black, that she is held for hours in restraints, and that she is incarcerated with two narcotics offenders who are reportedly free to abuse her."

The hearings also explored the predictable social problems that have resulted from the one-child policy: Since boys are favored over girls so strongly in China, and in the absence of a Christian tradition regarding the sanctity of human life, restricting most couples to one child has led to sex-selective abortion and female infanticide, and a resulting shortage of girls and women. According to Dewey, there were 117 men for every 100 women in China in 2000. "The imbalance has already contributed to a rise in prostitution in China and an increase in trafficking in infants and women," Aird reported. "Chinese and foreign media reports between 2000 and 2004 tell of tens of thousands of women being enticed by false job offers, then kidnapped, beaten, and raped until they agree to be sold as slave wives far from their homes." Dewey also said there were not enough children to support China's aging population the Chinese version of America's Social Security crisis. On the other hand, Smith noted that China has no problem with illegitimate children since unmarried women aren't allowed to give birth.

Wu brought with him a local population-planning document that demonstrated just how focused government officials are on their population quotas and how couples' desires are not important. "Jieshi, located on the northern part of Lufeng City, Guangdong Province, has an area of 124 km and a population of 200,000," Wu testified. "Document No. 43 of Jieshi Township from August 26, 2003 gave orders that the fall 2003 family planning assignment should begin on August 26, and within 35 days (ending on September 30), the goals must be achieved: to sterilize 1,369, fit 818 with an IUD, induce labor for 108, and carry out 163 abortions."

Hearing attendees expressed hope that the upcoming 2008 Olympics in Beijing could be used to pressure the government to alleviate its human rights abuses. PRI strongly seconds that motion.