Update (1/4/2016): According to a December 27 report from the state-run news agency Xinhua, the two-child policy was officially passed that day and was to be enacted January 1, 2016 (instead of the March 2016 date originally referenced below).
“First the [Chinese Communist Party] would kill any baby after one. Now they will kill any baby after two.” – Chen Guangcheng, Chinese human rights advocate (Oct. 29, 2015)
When Chinese mother Sarah Huang learned she was pregnant with her second child, she and her husband were elated at first as news reached them of a new “two-child policy.” Things turned grim, however, when her husband’s employer, the Chinese government, informed them they would be mandated to abort the baby if they couldn’t provide proof Sarah had an IUD inserted. Fearing a forced abortion in the near future, the Huangs went into hiding and eventually risked fleeing to the United States, where they arrived this Thanksgiving.
Only a week later on December 3rd, Sarah Huang testified before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) during its hearing on China’s proposed two-child policy. Announced in late October (but yet to be implemented, likely in March 2016), the two-child policy would allow married couples to have a second child legally. Despite misleading language that China is “abandoning” or “abolishing” its one-child policy, the proposed change continues to operate on the same principles of reproductive control that allowed for 35 years of human rights abuses against its own women and children.
CECC Chairman, Rep. Chris Smith, opened the hearing by pointing out that the modified policy does not in any way “remove the pernicious incentives given to local officials to pressure or even force mothers to abort a child if the birth hasn’t been approved by the state or is the couple’s third.” In a nutshell: The “coercive population control apparatus remains essentially unchanged,” said Smith.
Likewise, CECC Cochairman Sen. Marco Rubio wrote that the proposed change is “as indefensible and inhumane as the one-child policy it replaces. In fact, it should be known as the ‘forced abortion of child #3’ policy.”
With a large aging population and fewer young people able to replace them in the work force, China has been forced to rethink its restrictive birth limitations program if it wants to stay afloat economically. According to a United Nations projection, China will lose 67 million workers from 2010 to 2030. Last year alone, the workforce fell by 3.71 million individuals – a “significant number even by China’s standards” noted Steve Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute who also testified at the hearing. In other words, “China is growing old before it grows rich, and the strains on China’s nascent pension programs will be enormous,” he summarized.
Mosher was the first American social scientist to receive permission from China in 1979 to live in the country and study political changes. He testified at the hearing that he was an eye witness to the brutal enforcement of the then-new one-child policy which he says “swept across the country like a terrible hurricane.” He witnessed forced abortions and sterilizations, “third trimester abortions done by C-section and babies killed at birth.” Indeed, CECC Chairman Smith credited Mosher as being the one who “broke the news” to the Western world of the human rights abuses of forced abortions and sterilizations under the one-child policy.
Having both studied and witnessed the effects of China’s policy, Mosher testified, “Regardless of whether Party leaders allow Chinese couples to have one, two, or even three children, the underlying policy has not changed – and probably will not change.”
Reggie Littlejohn, founder and president of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, an organization that seeks to end sex-selective abortion or “gendercide” against girls, clarified at the hearing what the modified policy would entail. “Women still have to obtain a government-issued birth permit, for the first and second child, or they may be subject to forced abortion. It will still be illegal for an unmarried woman to have a child. Regardless of the number of children allowed, women who get pregnant without permission will still be dragged out of their homes, strapped down to tables, and forced to abort babies that they want,” said Littlejohn.
As for a birth permit for a second child, Littlejohn says they are “not likely to become available until well into next year,” meaning that women who conceived before the two-child policy’s implementation are still subject to forced abortion or “astronomical ‘terror fines’.”
Littlejohn informed the CECC that women who run away when illegally pregnant take huge risks. “According to the president of a local hospital and a family planning official contacted by our network,” if a woman is caught fleeing – even under the two-child policy – she will still face forced abortion and “will have no recourse to a court of law, as courts will not accept such cases.”
This reality magnifies the risk of Sarah Huang’s public appearance at the CECC hearing after she fled China. Huang explained why she took the risk, saying:
My answer for why I am here being simply because I believe it can make a difference in the lives of the thousands of women like me who are pregnant in China today and are crying out because their babies (and bodies) are not protected by our government or its policies. I believe that the people in this room, in this city, and in this country have the courage to stand up for what is right and I believe that you deserve to know the truth.
Huang also said that she helped to save more than 80 babies by hiding them in her own house or other safe houses over the past few years.
Jennifer Li, cofounder of China Life Alliance (CLA) also testified, calling to attention how the one-child policy has placed overwhelming pressure on families – especially poor families – who give birth to a child with a disability.
CLA partners with churches to rescue women through safe houses, legal aid, and rescue teams. Li shared the story of one woman her team encountered who gave birth to a baby girl with Down syndrome. When the girl was five days old, the woman’s own mother-in-law attempted to smother the baby, but she survived. “The pressure of feeling they needed to have both children be “healthy” and preferably male, in order to help earn income for the family proved to be too much,” said Li.
Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), also present at the hearing, shared that while he lived in China in the 1990s, he discovered one morning a pair of twin baby girls left on his doorstep. He knew it was because he was an American and the act was one of desperation on the parents’ behalf. After a long process, the girls were successfully adopted by American parents, Daines said.
Witnesses stated that the cases they shared were not one-time exaggerations, but an accurate, representative sample of the larger picture. Measuring the overall demographic impact of China’s one-child policy, however, has remained an elusive task, according to Dr. Nicholas Eberstadt, Ph.D.
Dr. Eberstadt, world-renowned demographer and Henry Wendt Chair in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute, testified, “Strange as it may sound, demographers and population specialists have yet to offer a plausible and methodologically defensible estimate of just how much this extraordinarily ambitious and ruthless adventure in social engineering has actually altered the size and composition of China’s population.”
The reason lies in the data: “[W]e lack any clear idea of what China’s population trends over the past three and a half decades would have looked like in the absence of coercion.”
Even the much-cited claim from the Chinese government that the one-child policy has led to an averted 400 million births is based on a “fundamentally flawed approach,” said Dr. Eberstadt. This number is apparently a tally of the total number of abortions, he said, but does not distinguish between forced and voluntary abortions, and also “ignores the scope and scale of pregnancies averted altogether in the first place under the glare of anti-natal pressure” via government-mandated IUD insertion and forced sterilization.
As such, the 400 million figure “cannot be taken seriously,” stated Dr. Eberstadt. Despite these challenges, he concluded from his studies that “[f]orcible birth control looks to be the Chinese government’s preferred policy path for the indefinite future. What is incontestable is that this path guarantees systematic human rights abuse.”
Besides the call for China to abolish its brutally repressive reproductive control policy altogether, another major recommendation was that the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) be held accountable. Chairman Smith called the UNFPA to task as “complicit in China’s coercive population control policies” because it “helped fund birth restrictions, fund forced abortions, and a massive and coercive family planning bureaucracy,” he said.
Last week, the Omnibus Bill cut funding to the UNFPA, reducing it by 7 percent ($2.5 million) to $32.5 million, and maintained a clause on the prohibition of use of funds for a program in China.
Almost as if to take a page out of the language of American current events, Sarah Huang shared of her own country: “I am compelled to speak up and shine a light on the reality of what is happening in China because Chinese lives are important, the protection of women and babies is important.”
Huang’s remark resounds as the world recently celebrated Human Rights Day, which commemorates the date in 1948 on which the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It states, “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state” (Article 16). As one of the original drafters of the Declaration and yet one of its most egregious offenders in our time, China must totally abolish its coercive birth limitation program and allow its citizens this most basic human right to a family.
Genevieve Plaster is a research assistant for the Charlotte Lozier Institute.