Thirty years after it introduced some of the world’s most sweeping population-control measures, the Chinese government continues to use a variety of coercive family planning tactics, from financial penalties for households that violate the restrictions to the forced sterilization of women who have already had one child, according to a report issued by a human rights group.
The report, published on Tuesday by Chinese Human Rights Defenders, documents breadwinners who lose their jobs after the birth of a second child, campaigns that reward citizens for reporting on their neighbors and expectant mothers dragged into operating rooms for late-term abortions.
Not uncommon, according to the report, are the experiences of women like Li Hongmei (李紅梅), 24, a factory employee from Anhui Province who was at home recovering from the birth of her daughter when a dozen men employed by the local government carried her off to a hospital for a tubal ligation.
“I promised I would have the surgery when I got better, but they didn’t care,” Li said in a telephone interview. “I screamed and tried to fight them off, but it was no use.”
Although most of the abuses documented in the report are not new, its authors are seeking to highlight the darker side of birth-control restrictions at a time when the public debate has largely focused on whether China’s family-planning policy has been too successful for its own good.
This year as China marked the 30th anniversary of the so-called one-child policy, officials have been praising such measures for preventing 400 million births. A smaller population, they argue, has helped fuel China’s astounding economic growth by reducing the demands on food production, education and medical care.
Some demographers, however, argue that plummeting fertility rates and a rapidly aging -population are reasons enough to ease the rules. Sociologists fret about the surfeit of unmarried men — the result of selective abortions that favor sons — and the demands on only one child forced to care for elderly parents.
On Monday, the director of the Chinese National Population Family Planning Commission sought to put to rest any speculation about a change in the status quo, saying the current policies would remain in place through 2015.
As the report makes clear, China’s family-planning policies are unevenly applied and replete with exceptions. The rich simply pay the fines levied on those who ignore the restrictions and some middle-class women have gotten around the rules by traveling overseas to give birth to a second child. Millions of couples refuse to register their newborns with the authorities, although the tactic leaves such children ineligible for an array of social benefits, including a free education.
The policy is also not as all encompassing as many believe. Parents who themselves were raised in single-child families are allowed to have a second baby, as are many rural residents if their first is a girl. Ethnic minorities in places like Tibet and Xinjiang can have as many as four children.
Groups like Chinese Human Rights Defenders say the current family-planning policies should be abolished.
“The state’s role in shaping the population should be through incentives and by encouraging couples to have fewer children through education,” said Wang Songlian (王宋連), a researcher who worked on the report. “They should not be using coercion and violence.”