On April 27th, in a daring flight to freedom that caught the attention of the entire world, Chen Guangcheng successfully managed to escape the dwelling where he has been under house arrest for two years and evade the authorities who have kept him under constant surveillance, showering him and his family with abuse. The 40-year-old blind lawyer and family man was driven by friends from his home in the Shendong province to Beijing, where he took refuge in the U.S. Embassy. Following negotiations between the U.S. and China, Chen was effectively returned to Chinese authorities at a Beijing hospital. However, the State Department has said that China has indicated it will approve Chen’s application to travel to the United States. The fallout from his epic escape has been enormous and has ignited an intense discussion regarding human rights in China.
Mr. Chen stands at the center of this firestorm due to his public stance on the incredible human rights violations inflicted upon the Chinese people by the state family planning commission, especially forced abortions and sterilizations. Chen is a self-taught lawyer and activist who, in the late 1990’s, rose to prominence for his defense of the victims of the government’s one- child policy. He exposed a program of forced abortion and sterilization and attempted to mount a class-action lawsuit on behalf of 200 women whose children were forcibly aborted. At an emergency hearing last week on Chen’s situation, called by the Congressional-Executive Committee on China, Reggie Littlejohn, President of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, stated, “He and his wife exposed the fact that there were an estimated 130,000 forced abortions and forced sterilizations in Linyi City in one year in 2005.”
As a result of his part in the lawsuit and a public protest, Chen was sentenced to four years and three months in prison for “pressurizing the government.” Following his release in 2010, he was put under house arrest. For the past two years, he and his family have been subject to constant surveillance and abuse at the hands of their guards.
According to the organization All Girls Allowed, whose mission is to “restore life, value, and dignity to girls and mothers, and to reveal the injustice of China’s One-Child Policy,” mandatory abortion, known officially as “remedial measures,” is an official policy instrument in 18 of China’s 31 provinces and 300,000 people are employed to enforce this policy.
While the Chinese government denies that forced abortions occur in their country, the horrific stories from so many women are impossible to ignore. Last September, Ji Yeqing testified to her experience before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights. Ms. Ji spoke of how, when pregnant with her second child, she was dragged from her house as her husband was beaten for trying to help her. Authorities brought her to a clinic where she was held down and her unborn child was aborted. “After the abortion, I felt empty, as if something was scooped out of me,” Ji told the subcommittee. “My husband and I had been so excited for our new baby. Now suddenly all that hope and joy and excitement disappeared… I was very depressed and despondent.”
Just last month, one woman was forced to undergo an abortion even though she was nine-months pregnant. When the baby was born alive, the newborn was drowned in a bucket. The picture of the child was circulated extensively on the internet.
The cases that Chen documented have been released by Women’s Rights Without Frontiers. The Chen Guangcheng Report details case after case of the horrifying human rights abuses that have been the fruit of the one-child policy.
This policy has taken a tremendous toll on Chinese women. In China, women are three times more likely to commit suicide than men, with 500 women a day taking their own lives. In rural areas, suicide is the number one cause of death for women between the ages of 15 and 34.
For Chen’s struggle against this barbaric treatment of women and their children, he was imprisoned for six years. For the sake of the women of China—whose motherhood makes them presumptive enemies of the state—it is hoped that his escape and release will draw attention to these appalling practices and bring an end of the one-child policy.