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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 October 2018

Chinese officials who pushed woman into late-term abortion 'punished'

Officials who forced woman to have an abortion at seven months have been sacked or denied promotions or pay increases.

BEIJING // Seven officials have been punished for forcing a woman into a late-term abortion, an event that sparked widespread public outrage after graphic pictures of the mother with the dead foetus were released online.

Feng Jianmei, 22, from central China's Shaanxi province, was compelled into having the termination at the beginning of June, seven months into her pregnancy, because she had already given birth to a daughter in 2007.

State media announced late on Tuesday that, following an investigation, Jiang Nenghai, the director of the family planning bureau of Zhenping county in Shaanxi province, had been sacked.

A second official, Chen Pingyin, the director of the town where Ms Feng lives, was also sacked.

Another official, Yu Yanmei, a deputy county magistrate in charge of family planning, was given "administrative demerits", while five others were also punished. The punishments included not being eligible for a promotion or pay rise for 18 months. The local government had earlier apologised to Ms Feng.

The officials illegally asked the family for 40,000 yuan (Dh23,080) if Ms Feng wanted a second child and when she and her husband, Deng Jiyuan, were unable to pay, they coerced the mother into ending her pregnancy.

They are said to have used "crude means to violate [Ms Feng's] intentions", the Xinhua news agency reported, amid claims from Mr Deng that his wife was hooded, forcibly taken to hospital and injected in her stomach.

The family's lawyer, Zhang Kai, told media "the family is not happy" with the punishments handed out, as no criminal charges had been brought.

The campaign group Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said in most cases officials were not punished for excesses linked to the one-child policy.

"The fact officials are being held accountable is isolated and doesn't represent the official policy on how officials are treated," said Wang Songlian, the group's research coordinator.

"The government officials are virtually immune in using violence and carrying out the policy by force. We've not seen any significant [change] in holding officials accountable."

Photographs showing Ms Feng on her hospital bed alongside the dead foetus ignited widespread anger. Ms Wang said it was "positive" that the internet had made open discussion of the incident possible, a contrast to previous years.

Reports this week indicated the family were being targeted because they had spoken to foreign media. Photographs published online showed banner-wielding protesters outside Ms Feng's hospital calling for the "traitors" to be beaten and expelled, while relatives claim to have been followed.

Ms Feng's husband is said to have gone into hiding as a result of the harassment, which the family's lawyer said was probably organised by local officials.

While figures are hard to come by, CHRD's Ms Wang estimated at least hundreds of forced abortions were carried out in China annually, although in previous decades they were believed to have been more frequent.

Campaigners say many other women are forced to undergo sterilisation or to have contraceptive devices fitted by officials keen to meet family planning targets.

The one-child policy, introduced in 1978, is officially said to have reduced by 400 million the number of children born in China, although opponents say this figure is exaggerated as birth rates would have dropped as incomes increased.

Among the side-effects is an unnaturally high male to female ratio, with official figures indicating nearly 118 boys were born for every 100 girls last year as couples limited to one child aborted female foetuses in the hope of later having a boy.

In China there is a longstanding preference for boys, with families believing they need a male heir to continue the family line. Also, girls traditionally leave the family when they marry, while a son will remain and look after his parents.

dbardsley@thenational.ae