U.S.: China 1-Child Policy 'Harsh'

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Despite some changes, China's one-child family planning program remains a source of coercion, forced abortions, infanticide and perilously imbalanced boy-girl ratios, State Department officials said Tuesday.

Testimony before the House International Relations Committee focused on a Shanghai woman who, since her second pregnancy in the late 1980s, has been assigned to psychiatric wards, coerced into an abortion, and removed from her job. She is reportedly subject to torture in a labor camp.

Mao Hengfeng, said Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., "is the most egregious example of China's mistreatment of women who do not comply with China's draconian policies, but there are thousands of other victims."

China in the 1970s launched a one-child policy to slow the growth of its population, now at 1.3 billion. Couples who have unsanctioned children have been subject to heavy fines, job losses and forced sterilization.

There have been some modifications, allowing second children for ethnic populations and rural families whose first child is a girl. In 2002, under strong U.S. pressure, Beijing enacted a national law aimed at standardizing birth-control policies and reducing corruption and coercion.

Arthur Dewey, the State Department assistant secretary for population, refugees and migration, said there were some encouraging signs that China "may be beginning to understand that its coercive birth-planning regime has had extremely negative social, economic and human rights consequences for the nation."

Dewey added, however, that "China's birth-planning law and policies retain harshly coercive elements in law and practice."

Among those negative effects have been female infanticide in rural areas where there is a strong desire for male heirs, imbalances in the sex ratio that has been estimated to be as much as 122 boys for every 100 girls, soaring rates of female suicide, and human trafficking.

"The one-child policy is the most pervasive source of human-rights violations in China today," said Harry Wu, a human- rights activist who spent 19 years in the Chinese labor camp system.

Wu cited a 2003 document from an area of southern Guangdong Province where party secretaries and village heads were told their salaries would be cut in half if, in a 35-day period, they did not reach a goal of sterilizing 1,369 people, fitting 818 with IUDs and carrying out 163 abortions.

The case of Mao, said Michael Kozak, the State Department's acting assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor, highlights four serious abuses in the Chinese system: coercive family planning, continued use of "re-education through labor" camps, forced incarceration in psychiatric hospitals and torture.

"Mao's case is an example of what can and does go wrong in China," Kozak said.

Mao, who had twins in 1987, was confined to a psychiatric ward for six days in 1989 after another pregnancy sparked a fight with her work unit. She was fired from her job after protesting her treatment despite agreeing to abort another pregnancy, was sent back to a psychiatric hospital where she said she was tortured, and last April was given an 18-month sentence in a labor camp.

Smith, a leading critic of China's human rights and abortion record, said he was "very fearful that the torture may lead to her death."

The Bush administration, in addition to pressing the Chinese on human-rights issues, has for the last three years barred U.S. funds for the U.N. Population Fund, charging that the UNFPA's support of China's population planning programs allows China to implement its policies of coercive abortion.

By Jim Abrams
  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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