Women rebel over forced abortions in China
Anger at the regime’s extreme birth control regime is growing
Abuses of women’s reproductive rights, some of which break China’s own laws, are provoking outrage as Chinese public opinion wakes up to the persistence of forced abortion, compulsory sterilisation and even infanticide.
China has run birth control campaigns since the 1970s. In 1979 it passed laws restricting city dwellers to one child and rural people to two if the first was a girl or disabled.
Officials say the policy has prevented 300m births and helped reduce poverty, raising life expectancy to 73. But the Chinese population is still growing by 8m-10m a year, or about a million every five weeks, and will do so for several more years.
Open discussion of abuses of the policy has raised hopes among women activists that Hillary Clinton will speak up for them when she makes her first visit to China as US secretary of state this week.
Clinton annoyed the Chinese regime with a speech at a 1995 women’s conference in Beijing in which she said: “It is a violation of human rights when women are denied the right to plan their own families, and that includes being forced to have an abortion or sterilised against their will.”
Now Clinton is predicted to tackle Beijing on a broader range of issues than the economics-focused approach taken by the Bush administration. She has signalled that she will take a firmer stand on human rights.
Even as Chinese media and internet commentators break taboos to report birth control abuses, some officials are stepping up humiliating interventions in the lives of women.
Those with one child are likely to face regular pregnancy tests and pressure to be sterilised through a range of financial penalties or the threat of being sacked from their jobs.
Physical coercion to terminate a pregnancy or undergo sterilisation was banned by law in 2002 but numerous reports in the Chinese media claim that it still goes on.
Chinese women are daring to speak out themselves. Zhang Linla, who has a four-year-old daughter, told a website in Shenzhen, on the border with Hong Kong, that she was subjected to a late forced abortion because she became pregnant again before the period officially allowed between births.
“Six days before the due date, 10 strong strangers came to my house, forced me into a truck then took me to a family planning clinic, where the doctor gave me an injection,” she said.
“The child began struggling in my womb and one of these scum even kicked me in the abdomen. Then the baby came out and they threw it into a rubbish bin. I could even see it was still moving.”
An even more horrifying story, reported on hundreds of websites, concerned a case of infanticide in Wuhan, central China, last September. A farmer named Huang Qiusheng said his wife, who was nine months pregnant, gave birth to a live child despite being forced to submit to an injection to induce an abortion. The infant was thrown into a urinal.
The next day an elderly woman named Liu Zhuyu heard the child’s cries, rescued it, washed it and delivered it to a neonatal clinic. But the reports claim that five family planning officials confronted Liu, seized the child and killed it by throwing it to the ground.
The complexity of family planning laws and their arbitrary enforcement often contributes to cases of cruelty.
This month a newspaper in Yunnan province reported a case of compulsory sterilisation that has appalled commentators. It involved a woman named Zhang Kecui, who was ambushed in the street by family planning officials and dragged on to the operating table for a sterilisation.
Zhang has two children and according to regulations should have been sterilised after the second birth. Her husband has lodged a legal complaint but has little hope of redress.
Sociologists and doctors are beginning to question the long-term effects of the birth-control policy.
“As a woman, I believe that coercing a woman who is eight months pregnant to have an abortion is inhuman,” a family planning official, who asked not to be named, told The Sunday Times.