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China's tough birth policy will stay

3rd April 2008

China has pledged to maintain tough family planning policies that limit most of the country’s families to just one child, in a bid to keep its burgeoning population under control.

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Pregnant women who fall foul of the system and civil rights activists are still reporting widespread abuses by officials in many parts of the country, including forced abortions, arbitrary detentions and torture.

In Zhubao township in the eastern province of Shandong, family planning officials detained and beat the sister of one pregnant woman who had already given birth to one child, the family told RFA’s Cantonese service.

The woman, who lives near Linyi city, where family planning abuses have already been widely documented, is eight months pregnant. She went into hiding with her husband to escape the forced abortion she says appeared inevitable. When the authorities couldn’t find her, they detained her elder sister.

“After they took her away they were asking her questions about our other sister [the pregnant woman],? a younger sister said.

“When she said she didn’t know, they beat her up. We heard from inside sources that the beatings were very severe. We also heard that they beat one woman to death a few years ago, so we are all very worried about her.?

She said the entire family was planning to go into hiding to escape further detentions and beatings.

Abuses re-emerged this year

The pregnant woman said in an interview from her hiding place that she was living in constant fear of being caught.

“Now we are supposedly safe, but I don’t feel safe. I am still very frightened. If they catch me they will force me to have an abortion. I feel very weak because I am anemic,? she said.

“I feel awful that my sister is suffering because of me. But I don’t know what I can do. I don’t want to go back and have an abortion. And I can’t go back if I don’t have an abortion. So I will have to have the baby and then go back and pay the fines.?

Repeated calls to the Zhubao township family planning office during office hours were connected to wrong numbers.

Yuan Weijing, wife of jailed civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng, said her husband’s blistering exposure of abuses by family planning officials in Linyi city and nearby Yinan county had brought about some changes for a limited time.

Chen, who was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment in August 2006 for “damaging property and organising a mob to disturb traffic,? blew the whistle on the use of forced abortions and other abuses.

His writings were widely distributed on the internet and read by many in China.

Limited resources

“It is just the same as it always was here. If you are pregnant without permission, it doesn’t matter how many months gone you are - they will keep an eye on the pregnancy and then they will arrest you and drag you off for an abortion,? said Yuan, who is herself under constant surveillance at the couple’s home in Yinan county.

“If you run away, they will detain a member of your family and smash up your home. People here are terribly fearful these days,? she told RFA’s Mandarin service.

“I really couldn’t tell you the real reason for this. To be honest with you, things got a whole lot more relaxed in 2005 after Chen Guangcheng exposed these practices, and pretty much nobody was getting beaten up at that time. The really nasty practices lingered on in some places, however. But this year it has all started up again.?

Last month, China’s National Family Planning Committee Chairman Zhang Weiqing told parliament that current policies wouldn’t change. He pointed to a surging birth rate projected in the next decade, which could lead to exponential population growth if controls were relaxed now.

Song Meiya, a senior editor at the official China Women’s Daily newspaper in Beijing said she backed the decision, because she believed that most Chinese people understood the need for family planning controls.

“The total population should be controlled,? she said. “For the time being, the problems China is now facing include arable land supply, environmental issues, and resources.?

“They are all related to population. I think we should see the thing from the point of view of the relationship between population and the economy, and that of resources utilisation,? Song said.

“If China gives up control now, we don’t know where we might end up.?

Beijing launched the one-child policy in 1979 in a bid to curb overpopulation and concomitant poverty and environmental and social problems, and the policy has been enforced to varying degrees throughout the country since then.

Original reporting in Cantonese by Grace Kei Lai-see, and in Mandarin by Han Qing, Wen Jian, and An Pei. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the web in English by Luisetta Mudie and Chen Ping. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

 

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