Controlling China: The U.S. Congress Should not Fund State-mandated Abortions

Today, we expect the U.S. Congress to vote on an amendment to restore funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). This would, in turn, restore U.S. funding to UNFPA programs in China, where women are not allowed to freely give birth and are subjected to forced abortion and sterilization. This one-child policy is the most pervasive human-rights violation in China today: It should not be sponsored, and cannot be encouraged, by the United States.

The UNFPA argues that it must cooperate with the Chinese government to help improve the reproductive health of Chinese women and children. But as published, China’s newly promulgated State Family Planning Law is a violation of human rights as outlined by the U.N. Charter, UNDHR (Universal Declaration of Human Rights), and the Cairo Declaration, to all of which China is a signatory. Each of these documents clearly states that family planning should be the responsibility of individuals.

Family planning, in the true sense of the term, should be encouraged the way that family planning is universally accepted throughout the international community. Its concept, defined in the World Population Plan of Action as adopted at the United Nations Bucharest Session, is: “All couples and individuals have the basic right to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children and to have the information, education and means to do so.” In contrast, family planning enforced in China is actually “State-Controlled Mechanized Reproduction of Children”: “Individuals” and “husbands and wives” are replaced with “the state,” and “family planning” becomes “the state decides how many children a family may have, and at spacing in accordance with economic development.”

According to the Population and Family Planning Law of the People’s Republic of China, “Under China’s family-planning policy each couple may have only one child; in rural areas a couple may have a second child if the first child happens to be a girl; a national minority couple may have two children. All births must be approved in advance, with the state allotting birth quotas in a unified way; children in all areas of the nation should be borne by the quotas allotted for the given year; offenders shall be punished.” This Chinese version of family planning – thoroughly manipulated by the state – deprives Chinese citizens of fundamental rights.

In China, with few exceptions, only married couples who obtain advance approval – i.e., a birth permit – may legally have a child, even if it is their first child. A majority of Chinese women are forced to use intrauterine devices (IUDs). Violators, if discovered to be pregnant, are often forced to have abortions. Most violators of the one-child policy are forced to undergo sterilization. Doctors who do not perform IUD insertion or sterilization, or who fake these operations, are jailed. Family members of violators are often jailed if they do not reveal a violator’s whereabouts. Other common “punishments” of violators include heavy fines and the destruction of property, and even infanticide. Despite relaxation of certain aspects of China’s family-planning regulations, enforcement of the one-child policy continues to be coercive.

Every year, the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) receives thousands of applications for asylum from victims of China’s coercive population-control measures. Congress views China’s one-child policy as a form of persecution and mandated that the BCIS set aside 1,000 visas per year specifically for its victims. China is the only nation whose citizens are eligible for asylum based on population-control-related persecution.

The UNFPA states that birth targets and quotas were lifted in the 32 Chinese counties supported by its programs. It also notes a “shift from an administrative family planning approach to an integrated, client-oriented reproductive health approach in the project counties.” We have heard charges that the UNFPA has provided computers and vehicles to the Chinese government to enforce China’s family-planning policy. Regardless of what has taken place in the 32 counties the UNFPA operates in, they constitute only about one percent of China’s more than 3,000 counties. There is no major change taking place in China, and these 32 counties are being used as a showcase by the Chinese government. By cooperating with Beijing, the UNFPA is allowing itself to be used as a model example, when what is being carried out throughout the rest of China is a draconian policy infringing on the rights of the individual.

A typical example of the continued implementation of harsh family-planning measures throughout China involves the case of Jieshi Township in Guangdong Province. After the introduction of the “Population and Birth Control Law” on September 1, 2002, Chinese authorities declared that all family-planning violators would be fined a so-called “social alimony” fee instead of being subjected to other punishments. There have been various unwritten rules for how family-planning violators should be punished, as described above. The implementation of these different forms of punishment has varied in locations throughout China. While each location has attempted to carry out measures in the spirit of the central government’s policy, each has had its own measures to prevent “illegal births.”

The Laogai Research Foundation recently obtained a document – “Document No. 43” – from Jieshi. It shows how the local government has harshly implemented China’s family-planning law. Jieshi, located in the northern part of Lufeng City, has an area of 124 km and a population of 200,000. The document (issued on 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), certain goals must be achieved: to sterilize 1,369, fit 818 with an IUD, induce labor for 108, and carry out 163 abortions. During this period, each five days there should be a count and each ten days there should be an evaluation, and there must be a 100 percent success rate. Party secretaries and village heads who failed to fulfill this task would have their salaries cut by half, and other responsible cadres would suffer the withholding of their entire salary.”

One regulation in Document No. 43 stipulates: “Sterilized women will be compensated with 50 yuan, and women who undergo late-term abortions will be compensated with 300 yuan.” The document also demands “in the countryside, sterilization for all women with two girls, and induced labor for late-term pregnancy. Overcome difficulties with creativity, so that all fall actions can be implemented successfully, and the ground can be set for yearly population control planning.” In the spirit of the document, the leaders of the township asked all villagers to be vigilant and to denounce all “unlawful” pregnancies and births.

Even after the supposedly more moderate “Population and Birth Control Law” was promulgated in 2002, it is clear from this Jieshi document that harsh family-planning-implementation methods have not changed.

China’s coercive population control – approved and celebrated by the UNFPA – is too terrible to be ignored, and we must not turn a blind eye to this problem. Denying the UNFPA congressional funding may encourage the U.N. to stand by its stated principles and to tell the Chinese government to end its coercive family-planning policies.

It is true that the UNFPA has implemented some positive programs in developing countries throughout the world that benefit women and their families. However, we must stand on the side of the millions of Chinese women who lack the fundamental human right to freely bear children. If Congress and the UNFPA are truly forces for voluntarism, human rights, and progress in China, they will do the same.

Harry Wu is the executive director of the Laogai Research Foundation.