When China ended its one-child policy in the beginning of 2016, most press coverage focused on the demographic issues the gender imbalance caused. Now, a year and a half later, while a Google search might lead you to a handful of articles detailing the increased birthrate and demographic problems the country faces, you will find very little press coverage about the “family planning” policies that are currently still in place. Unfortunately, forced sterilizations, coerced abortions, and other invasive procedures are still prevalent in the country.
So, what exactly has changed? The reforms keep original provisions, which state that “citizens have an obligation to practice birth planning in accordance with the law” and that “couples of childbearing age voluntarily choose birth planning contraceptive and birth control measures to prevent and reduce unwanted pregnancies.” The true voluntariness of this “family planning” is dubious, however.
Although legal provisions supposedly ban authorities from breaching citizens’ “legitimate rights and interests” to enforce family planning policies, Chinese officials still deeply stress compliance with the “basic national policy” of family planning and birth limits, and other legal restrictions are still in place. The law prohibits childbearing outside of wedlock, and for married couples it limits the number of children to two. Officials still employ enforcement mechanisms such as coerced abortions, forced sterilizations, detentions, and heavy fines that may amount to ten times the average annual income. (There are some exceptions to the two-child limit, such as for ethnic minorities.) Such penalties can be incurred for having a pregnancy in violation of family planning regulations, or for simply helping someone circumvent family planning laws. Other penalties include dismissal from employment, demotion, or loss of ability for promotion. Couples may be presented with an ultimatum to either abort or pay exorbitant fines.
If single or unmarried women have children, they are labeled as “outside of the policy,” and may be denied the “hukou” residence permit and birth documents. Without the hukou permit, it is difficult for an individual to get a job or receive government medical care and other services. An estimated 43.8 percent of individuals without hukou status (who are unregistered) are unemployed. China’s Ministry of Public Security, however, related this year that it is exploring reform options for the hukou issue.
Across the country, government reports and official speeches stressed strict enforcement of “family planning” mechanisms throughout 2016. The 2017 report from the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China related that “some provincial-level population planning regulations and local family planning agencies continued to explicitly instruct officials to carry out abortions, often referred to as ‘remedial measures’ (bujiu cuoshi), for ‘out-of-plan’ pregnancies.” During 2016, in the Hunan municipality, for example, local authorities conducted 2,320 “birth control” operations—1,790 intrauterine device insertions, 90 abortions, 10 sterilizations, and 430 intrauterine device removals—according to a government report.
In one district, the senior official at one of China’s “family planning” centers informed a BBC reporter that all women of childbearing age were required to have an ultrasound twice a year and that any of them experiencing a third pregnancy were then “advised accordingly.” Officials undertake home visits, which are “coercive,” and allege to “persuade” the women to abort their children. Officials indicated that, should a woman become pregnant with a third child, they would “definitely find [her] and persuade [her] to do an abortion.” Should this “persuasion” fail, officials also indicated that physical force would not be ruled out in ensuring compliance with family planning laws. An official from the center also indicated that a Chinese woman “just can’t” plan on having a baby and paying the penalty.
In August 2016, in the Guangdong province, a Chinese woman was coerced into aborting her baby after the government threatened to fine and dismiss her and her husband from their public sector jobs. Being six months along in the pregnancy, she had to have an induced abortion (entailing an injection and giving birth to a stillborn child).
Coercive “family planning” operations in China do not just affect women, either. In February 2017, Hu Zhenggao, a Chinese father of four living in the Yunnan province, said he was forced to undergo a vasectomy. Officials alleged that Hu had failed to adhere to family planning laws and ordered him to either pay a 20,000-yuan fine (the equivalent of about eight months’ wages for the average worker in Yunnan), or have the operation. The procedure was not conducted in a hospital but in an office, and was accompanied by beatings from officials. The Chinese news media source Sixth Tone indicated that “such operations are commonplace” in Hu’s county, which has sterilization quotas in place for family planning officials.
Another problem which the two-child policy continues to exacerbate is sex-based abortion. Laws technically prohibit sex determination that is not medically necessary and abortions on the basis of sex. However, some Chinese still abort girls due to a cultural preference for boys. Despite recent attempts by the government to shut down illegal sex-testing networks, the industry still thrives. Though some experts say that gender preference in China is declining, it certainly is still an issue. In a recent case, gender preference even led one grandmother to trample to death her four-day-old granddaughter. This past summer in the Anhui Province, health complications from repeated abortions brought one Chinese woman to her death. In just one year, the woman’s husband compelled her to undergo four abortions, as he wanted their second child to be a boy. The recurrent abortions, however, caused the woman to become extremely ill and eventually die.
These are just a few examples of the heartbreaking consequences of China’s laws. China’s change in policy can hardly be regarded as a paradigm-shifting transformation; the country still imposes a two-child policy that wrongly reflects a restrictive and oppressive approach to the basic right of procreation. As Christians, we recognize that all human life possesses intrinsic moral value as a reflection of God’s image. China’s two-child policy not only rejects that value, but rejects the rights of parents to plan their families as they see fit, enforcing its view through mechanisms that are horrific and unjust.
Alexandra Nieuwsma graduated summa cum laude from Westmont College with a B.A. in Political Science. She currently works as a research assistant for Senior Fellow and George P. Shultz Distinguished Scholar Abraham Sofaer at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. In 2018, Alexandra will begin her residency as a fellow at the John Jay Institute. Alexandra was named the Outstanding Senior 2017 in Westmont’s Political Science department. She is also a member of Phi Kappa Phi National Honor Society, and Pi Sigma Alpha National Honor society. When she’s not researching or writing, Alexandra enjoys playing the harp and composing music.
Photo Credit: In Beijing, China. By Alexander Mueller, via Flickr.