Global Policy Studies & International Security Health & Social Policy

China Should End, Not Ease, the One-Child Policy

China’s announcement last week that it would “ease” its one-child policy received significant attention from the American media. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will now allow couples to have two children if either parent is an only child. Tweaking a policy that by definition violates human rights, however, deserves little praise. Amending the one-child policy is not enough. China must abolish it.

The one-child policy is a clear violation of human rights norms. The 1968 proclamation of the International Conference on Human Rights explicitly states, “Parents have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and the spacing of their children.” But it is the Communist Party’s enforcement of the policy that presents the gruesome attack on human rights. The CCP uses extreme measures known as “coercive family planning” to implement the one-child policy—including forced abortion.

Originally implemented in 1979 to alleviate demographic, social, economic, and environmental problems in China, the one-child policy is considered a great success by the CCP. The Chinese government’s own statistics report that the policy has prevented 400 million births. The CCP is proud of its brutal enforcement of the policy as well: one family planning slogan in a rural town reads, “We would rather shed rivers of blood than have one extra child.”

Chinese family planning police investigate illegal pregnancies by forcing pregnancy tests, conducting random physical examinations, working with employers to find evidence of pregnancies, and offering financial rewards to citizens who report illegal pregnancies. When family planning police learn of a pregnant woman without a birth permit, they often drag her out of her home or off the street, sometimes imprisoning her in family planning jail cells.

Women are then forced to abort children they want to have, up to the ninth month of pregnancy. Sometimes officials even induce labor and kill the child after birth. As presented in first-hand accounts before the U.S. Congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, forced abortions are exceptionally violent. Women are often strapped to a table to subdue resistance. The procedure is not always performed by trained gynecological surgeons, so complications, infections, and even death are common.

The magnitude of China’s coercive family planning is huge. There are 13 million abortions in China each year—an average of 35,000 abortions performed per day. The abortion rate among Chinese women in their 20s is an astonishing 62 percent.

As shocking as those numbers may be, the real horror of the one-child policy comes through the stories of the women and families who are affected. Wang Liping was a 23-year old woman in a long-term relationship, but she and her boyfriend could not afford to get married. When she got pregnant, Wang and her family were overjoyed. But after the authorities discovered her illegal pregnancy, they stopped her on the street, beat her up, and dragged her to a hospital. She was seven months pregnant, so they induced labor and killed her child. Then the doctor demanded payment from Wang to dispose of the body of the fetus. When she said she could not pay, the doctors put the dead baby in a plastic bag and placed it with her in the bed.

The recent move to “ease” the one-child policy will not end forced abortions in China. More couples may be allowed to have two children, but women found to be illegally pregnant without a birth permit will still be victims the Communist Party’s coercive family planning. Americans should think twice before praising this “reform” in China. Both the pro-life and pro-choice communities in the United States should stand up and speak out against the human rights violations embodied in China’s one-child policy. No one is in favor of forced abortion, because forced abortion is not a choice.

One reply on “China Should End, Not Ease, the One-Child Policy”

Nice argument. I agree with it. Too bad the United States has no credibility on human rights given its love of capital punishment, indefinite detention of terrorist suspects, and love of killing innocent people through covert wars. If you want to see better human rights in China, improve the human right situation in the United States first.

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