A Grim Anniversary of China’s One Child Policy

A Chinese government billboard promotes the One Child Policy. Photo courtesy of the Laogai Research Foundation.

On the 32nd anniversary of the official institution of China’s One Child Policy, the organization Women’s Rights Without Frontiers sent a letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao asking him to end the “incalculable suffering to the women and families of China.”

Calling the One Child Policy a crime against humanity, Reggie Littlejohn, President of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers called the case of Feng Jianmei, who was forcibly aborted at seven months when she and her husband, Deng Jiyuan, could not pay a 40,000 yuan fine (US$6300). Officials of Ankang City, Shaanxi Province, tried to force Feng into a car, but she escaped to her aunt’s house. They broke through the gate, so she fled to the mountains, where officials found her hiding under a bed. After forcibly aborting her pregnancy, officials laid the remains next to her in the bed. The story and photograph immediately went viral, sent shockwaves around the world, and ignited a firestorm of outrage.

Ms. Littlejohn wrote in her letter: ‘’The coercive enforcement of China’s cruel and barbaric One Child Policy causes more violence towards women and girls than any other official policy on earth. It is China’s war against women and girls.”

She added that women are forcibly aborted up to the ninth month of pregnancy and that this practice is  ‘’systematic, institutionalized violence against women, official government rape; and it continues to this day.”

There are many cases like Feng’s in China and it is not only the women who are oppressed, but also those who try to defend them. Blind activist lawyer Chen Guangcheng exposed the widespread and systematic use of forced abortions and involuntary sterilizations in Linyi County in 2005. The Chinese Communist Party imprisoned Chen for four years and three months. They then kept him and his family under strict house arrest from September 2010 until his dramatic escape.  Chen arrived in the United States on May 19th 2012.

Friends grieve at the funeral of a 21-year-old Chinese woman who died following a forced abortion in Liuyang City, Hunan Province, in February 2009. Photo courtesy Women’s Rights Without Frontiers.

There are also catastrophic financial penalties for families under One Child.  The often excessive fines paid by couples to save an “out of plan” pregnancy are used to line the pockets of family planning and other officials, according to Women’s Rights Without Frontiers. These fines can reach up to ten times a person’s annual salary. In March 2012, the head of the Chemistry Department at Renmin University in Beijing jumped to his death because he was accused of having a second child and threatened with being “discharged from public employment.” Meanwhile, officials are promoted or demoted based on whether they meet birth, abortion and sterilization quotas.

In a striking blow against China’s One Child Policy, the European Parliament in July passed a resolution strongly condemning forced abortion and involuntary sterilization in China and globally, citing Feng Jianmei. The resolution “strongly condemns the decision to force Ms. Feng to have an abortion and condemns the practice of forced abortions and sterilizations globally, especially in the context of the one-child policy.” It further states that “the EU has provided, and still provides, funds for organizations involved in family planning policies in China,” and “urges the Commission to ensure that its funding of projects does not breach” the European Parliament’s commitment against coercive population control.

In the wake of the case of Feng Jianmei, a prominent group of Chinese scholars and entrepreneurs has criticized the policy on the basis that it violates human rights and works against economic stability. The fifteen signatories to the open letter  said the re-writing of family planning law was “imperative.” One of the group’s leaders, well-known Internet entrepreneur James Liang, called for the abolition of the one-child rule. Mr. Liang is the co-founder and CEO of Ctrip.com, China’s largest online travel site. He said that “The birth approval system built on the idea of controlling population size as emphasized in the current ‘Population and Family Planning Law’ does not accord with provisions on the protection of human rights contained in the nation’s constitution.”

Ms. Littlejohn of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers appealed to President Hu in the letter by saying: “You are in a unique position to stop this violence.  As you prepare to leave office later this year, may the end of the One Child Policy be your legacy to the Chinese people.”

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