China: Human Rights Violations and Coercion in One Child Policy Enforcement
Statement from International Relations Committee Hearing
Today the Committee on International Relations is meeting to examine the appalling issue of the continued and systematic use of coercion by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the implementation of its “One-Child” policy. In particular, we will hear testimony about the deplorable case of Mao Hengfeng, a victim of a forced abortion whose ongoing attempts to receive justice have resulted in her sentencing to 18 months of hard labor, during which she has been tortured, denied vitally-needed medicine, and whose life is in danger today.Today the Committee on International Relations is meeting to examine the appalling issue of the continued and systematic use of coercion by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the implementation of its “One-Child” policy. In particular, we will hear testimony about the deplorable case of Mao Hengfeng, a victim of a forced abortion whose ongoing attempts to receive justice have resulted in her sentencing to 18 months of hard labor, during which she has been tortured, denied vitally-needed medicine, and whose life is in danger today.
Some of you may be wondering why this hearing is being held at this time, when the 108th Congress has adjourned and the 109th has yet to be sworn in. Fighting for human rights is almost always difficult and inconvenient, and nowhere is it more inconvenient than when dealing with the People's Republic of China. Rocking the boat could be bad for the bottom line and may upset international relationships, thus businesses and international interests apply pressure to pretend there are no or few human rights violations in China. Unfortunately, however, communists in China do not take time off from their abuse and persecution for the holidays. Beijing Party leaders do not give local officials a pass from fulfilling their “population” and “family planning” quotas – euphemisms for forced IUD insertion, forced sterilization, and forced abortion.
In fact, the torture of Mao Hengfeng demonstrates that China’s drive to control its population growth at any cost to the Chinese people is as strong and dangerous as ever. A leading activist in Shanghai, Mao’s troubles with the Chinese government began in the late 1980s when, pregnant a second time, she petitioned her work unit for larger housing, which was refused. Despite a hunger strike and protests by Mao, she was confined to a psychiatric facility for six days in February 1989, during which she was administered drugs designed to induce an abortion, which nevertheless failed. The following month, in March 1989, she was dismissed from her job for “missing too many days of work,” after which she sued for wrongful dismissal and won, but lost on appeal. Mao’s legal battles continued, during which she became pregnant a third time. Told by the presiding judge that he would rule in her favor if she had an abortion, Mao aborted her child in October 1990 but the court nevertheless rejected her claims. Another protest by Mao resulted in another month-long psychiatric confinement, where Mao reported she was suspended in an inverted position and beaten.
Continuing her court battles for the next decade, Mao staged protests in front of the Shanghai No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court (IPC) in May and October 2003 after a lower court rejected her suit for non-payment of a fee, even though a fee waiver request was included in the papers transferred from the higher court. In early 2004, Mao along with thousands of other petitioners brought their cases to the attention of Party leaders at the National People’s Congress in Beijing. Upon her return, she was arrested and sentenced to 18 months of re-education through labor (RTL) for “disturbance of the peace” for allegedly scratching and tearing the uniforms of court personnel during the May and October protests.
In RTL, credible sources report that in August she was beaten, and that camp police have bound Mao’s wrists and ankles with leather straps and pulled her limbs apart for a period of two days to force Mao to acknowledge wrongdoing. On November 19, she lost an appeal in a Shanghai court to receive welfare payments but was seen with blood-blisters and swelling around her wrists and ankles, indicating ongoing abuse. More recently, family members report she is being force-fed an unidentified medicine which turns her mouth black, that she is held for hours in restraints, and that she is incarcerated with two narcotics offenders who are reportedly free to abuse her. Her blood pressure is dangerously high, but she refuses to take medicine for fear of being given psychiatric drugs.
Multiple, independent sources confirm that the reports of Mao’s mistreatment are not exaggerated. Mao’s case has raised concern even in China where access to information is difficult. Dozens of people have come forward to openly support her, and protests against her treatment led to the adjournment of an October 28 hearing in Yangpu district to consider further administrative action against her. Mao 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.
Other victims have told me their horrific stories about the Chinese one-child-per-couple policy. At one religious freedom meeting in China I asked what the participants knew about forced abortion policies. All three women in the group broke down in tears as they shared with me how they all had been forced to have abortions - one woman talked about how she thought God was going to protect her baby, but she was not able to escape the abortion. Other women who have gained asylum in the United States because of China’s coercive population control program have told me terrible stories of crippling fines, imprisonment of family members, and destruction of homes and property - all to force abortion and sterilization upon millions of women. According to the most recent State Department Human Rights Report, one consequence of “the country's birth limitation policies” is that 56 percent of the world's female suicides occur in China, which is five times the world average and approximately 500 suicides by women per day.
Mrs. Gao Xiao Duan, a former administrator of a Chinese Planned Birth Control Office, testified before this Committee about China’s policies. She explained, “Once I found a woman who was nine months pregnant, but did not have a birth‑allowed certificate. According to the policy, she was forced to undergo an abortion surgery. In the operation room I saw how the aborted child's lips were sucking, how its limbs were stretching. A physician injected poison into its skull, and the child died, and it was thrown into the trash can. . . . I was a monster in the daytime, injuring others by the Chinese communist authorities' barbaric planned‑birth policy, but in the evening, I was like all other women and mothers, enjoying my life with my children. . . . to all those injured women, to all those children who were killed, I want to repent and say sincerely that I'm sorry!”
Mrs. Gao has been joined by a rising chorus of government and human rights organizations crying out against these crimes against humanity. I am pleased that the State Department has provided Assistant Secretary Dewey from the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration; Michael Kozak, Acting Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor; and Mr. Joseph R. Donovan, Director for the Office of Chinese and Mongolian Affairs, to testify today. And I want to acknowledge and thank the efforts of our staff at the U.S. Embassy and consulates in China who work tirelessly to obtain accurate information and keep bringing these issues before the Chinese government, including one of my constituents from New Jersey, Benjamin Weber, the human rights officer in Shanghai.
On our second panel, Mr. Harry Wu, Executive Director of the Laogai Research Foundation, has long been a champion on this issue. Harry is himself a victim of China’s Laogai, or gulag, and he has just published a book on the topic, whose title comes from a Henan Province family planning slogan, “Better Ten Graves Than One Extra Birth.” John Shields Aird, formerly a demographer at the U.S. Bureau of Census specializing on demographic developments and population policy in China, is also with us today. Mr. Aird has filed more than 350 affidavits with DHS on behalf of women in China seeking asylum in the United States as a result of coerced abortions or sterilizations.
I am particularly pleased that we have Amnesty International, represented by Mr. T. Kumar, Amnesty’s Advocacy Director for Asia and the Pacific, here today to testify about this issue for the first time. Amnesty has demonstrated a sustained interest and commitment to speak not only about the case of Mao Hengfeng, but also about the massive scale of ongoing human rights violations perpetrated by the Chinese government, by calling on Congress and the Administration to use the upcoming session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva to scrutinize China’s behavior and hold it accountable for its abusive practices against its own citizens.
Missing from this impressive lineup is the UNFPA. Since 1979, UNFPA has been the chief apologist and cheerleader for China’s coercive one child per couple policy. Despite numerous credible forced abortion reports from impeccable sources, including human rights organizations like Amnesty International, journalists, former Chinese population control officials and, above all, from the woman victims themselves, high officials at UNFPA always dismiss and explain it all away. UNFPA has funded, provided crucial technical support and, most importantly, provided cover for massive crimes of forced abortion and involuntary sterilization. For instance, the former Executive Director of UNFPA Nafis Sadik said, “China has every reason to feel proud of and pleased with its remarkable achievements made in its family planning policy. The country could offer its experiences and special expert to help other countries.” And Sven Burmester, UNFPA’s man in Beijing, gushed over China’s achievements, "In strictly quantitative terms, it was the most successful family- planning policy ever developed." Make no mistake that China covets UNFPA financial and verbal support of its program as a “Good-Housekeeping seal of approval” to whitewash its human rights violations.
I am thankful that President Bush took the courageous stand in 2001 to redirect funds away from UNFPA and instead direct the same amount of money to other international health programs. On July 15th of this year, Secretary of State Colin Powell summarized the UNFPA problem in a letter to Chairman Hyde: “China continues to employ coercion in its birth planning program, including through severe penalties for ‘out of plan births,’ and UNFPA’s program has not been restructured to solve the problems identified in 2002.” The State Department’s accompanying report details these coercive measures, many of which Mao Hengfeng is now living out: “The country’s population control policy relied on education, propaganda, and economic incentives, as well as on more coercive measures such as the threat of job loss or demotion and social compensation fees….Reliable sources reported that the fees ranged from one-half to eight times the average worker’s annual disposable income….Additional disciplinary measures…included the withholding of social services, higher tuition costs when the child goes to school, job loss or demotion, loss of promotion opportunity, expulsion from the Party…, and other administrative punishments, including in some cases the destruction of property.” Examples abound. The Los Angeles Times reported that just last month, a couple in Jiangxi province complained that local officials destroyed their home after they were unable to pay a fine of 16,000 yuan (about $1,935) because their daughter broke the one-child policy.
In addition to the UNFPA, the PRC government, the foreign press, and others have claimed that China in recent years has abandoned coercive measures to enforce family planning. For instance, New York Times journalist Elizabeth Rosenthal in November 1998 wrote an article entitled “For One-Child Policy, China Rethinks Iron Hand.” In December 2001, the PRC government promulgated a family planning law as a reform and centralization of the implementation and enforcement of family planning policies, which was hailed by UNFPA and other Western organizations as “ushering in an era of reform.” Even our own State Department, in its 2003 report on Human Rights in China, unhelpfully muddies the waters by asserting that the Central Government “prohibits the use of physical coercion to compel persons to submit to abortion or sterilization.”
Yet there are numerous Chinese sources which indicate rising coercion in family planning enforcement or refer to aspects of the program which sustain its coercive features. In March 2003, Hu Jintao, the new General Secretary of the Communist Party Central Committee, stated that Party comrades “…must continue to keep a tight grasp on population, resources, and environmental work…It is necessary to truly make the case that there are laws to follow, there are laws which must be followed, the implementation of the law must be strict, and violations must be pursued.” Just last week the Chinese government announced it was working on “new, substantial measures to minimize the negative effects” of its family planning policy.
In fact, recent evidence will be presented in this hearing to show that the PRC’s family planning program is intentionally coercive as a matter of national policy, and family planning enforcement in China has been neither moderated nor relaxed. Instead, there has been a recent sharp escalation in brutality, which has resulted in the use of torture and the deaths of program violators and their unauthorized children.
In but one example, we will hear testimony today of a horrific crackdown in August of last year in Jieshi town, a suburban community of 200,000 in Guangdong Province. In a printed directive dated August 23, 2003, the Jieshi town Party Committee announced a crash family planning surgery drive lasting 35 days, during which 818 women were to be fitted with IUDs, 271 were to undergo abortions (163 early-term and 108 late-term), and 1,369 were to be sterilized. The family planning cadres were told to “mobilize the whole town” “take all possible measures” and “overcome difficulties with creativity” – an open invitation to repression without limits. Authorities were to “educate” resistive families and “persuade them willingly” to take family planning measures the same day. The directive quoted from the national family planning law and copies were distributed widely to the public and various government and Party offices. This coercive birth control drive was the not an instance of over-zealous local officials but an open implementation of quotas to fulfill the state-mandated population control plan.
China’s family planning policies are not only state-sanctioned crimes against humanity and highly unpopular; they are also unneeded and will be remembered along with Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward as some of the most ill-conceived and catastrophic in China’s long and proud history. Its underlying premise – that China must immediately limit its population growth through the use of centrally planned quotas, using force if necessary -- must be questioned. First, China is no longer on the verge of economic collapse and famine, thanks to less intrusive government actions and sounder economic policies. China is now the world’s fastest-growing economy, it is producing more and higher quality food than ever before, and in fact it has become a net exporter of wheat.
Second, after 25 years of coercive central family planning, its disastrous effects are beginning to appear. The country’s male-female sex ratio is now dangerously skewed. In the last census in 2000, there were nearly 19 million boys more than girls in the 0-15 age group, and from a relatively normal ratio of 108.5 boys to 100 girls in the early 80s, the male surplus is now is close to 120 boys for each 100 girls at the present time, according to a Chinese think-tank report. Zhang Qing, population researcher of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, notes that only seven of China's 29 provinces are within the world's average sex ratio, with eight "disaster provinces" from North to South China, where there were 26 to 38 percent more boys than girls. This dangerous imbalance will aggravate societal instability, violent crime and gang formation, and is even now fueling the trafficking of women as well as the sale of unwanted babies. China's police have reported freeing more than 42,000 kidnapped women and children from 2001 to 2003.
Finally, let me quote from a USA Today article just published last week on December 9, entitled “China’s ‘daughter dearth.’” The article calls China’s one-child policy a “humanitarian tragedy that is robbing its people one family at a time,” and laments that “hundreds of millions of Chinese men will never experience the unique pleasures that (the author has) known as the father of a daughter.” But William R. Mattox Jr. concludes by writing, “…while I know that America can hardly stand in judgment of China’s policies, somehow still I wish the Chinese could love their daughters, too.”
But if America’s citizens and leaders will not stand in judgment of the horrific practices which continue in pursuit of controlling the growth of China’s population, who will stand up for the grieving mothers and fathers and for the children whose lives were so cruelly snubbed out? Watering down human rights protections is the wrong approach. Human rights are worth fighting for, even when they are costly, and the freedom to give birth is the most fundamental of human rights.