x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

China urged to act on one-child rights abuse

A local government in China's Shaanxi province apologised to Feng Jianmei late on Thursday and suspended three officials after the 27-year-old was forcibly taken to hospital and her pregnancy terminated.

Daniel Bardsley

Foreign Correspondent

BEIJING // Despite an apology from the Chinese authorities after a woman was forced to undergo an abortion seven months into her pregnancy, rights groups have said China is not serious about dealing with abuses linked to its one-child policy.

According to the official Xinhua news agency, a local government in central China's Shaanxi province apologised to Feng Jianmei late on Thursday and suspended three officials after the 27-year-old was forcibly taken to hospital and her pregnancy terminated.

Yet Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said yesterday the apology only came because of the negative publicity the case has attracted, with graphic photographs of Ms Feng on her hospital bed beside the dead baby having sparked outrage online. The baby was reportedly stillborn 36 hours after medical officials gave Ms Feng an injection to induce an abortion because she already has a daughter, who was born in 2007.

The Shaanxi authority that oversees family planning is said to have dispatched a team of investigators to the local area, where it is believed officials had failed to hit family-planning targets for the past two years, to investigate Ms Feng's case.

On late Thursday, the government of Ankang, a city in southern Shaanxi, apologised to Ms Feng and suspended the head of the local township government and two family-planning officials.

Wang Songlian, a researcher for CHRD, which in 2010 released a report highlighting abuses linked to the one-child policy, said yesterday that the authorities were apologising only because they felt they must "say something to appease the public" following the outrage the case has generated. Other instances indicated the authorities were not determined to prevent abuses, she said.

"The most important thing would be to hold the officials responsible according to Chinese law, to punish according to Chinese law," she said.

"In a lot of cases of forced abortions, forced sterilisations or forced insertions of intra-uterine devices, the officials are not punished, the Chinese government is not serious in punishing these abuses."

According to Xinhua, local authorities claimed Ms Feng gave her consent for the procedure, although at seven months it breached late-abortion limits.

The procedure was forced on Ms Feng because she was said to be unable to pay the 40,000 yuan (Dh23,100) fine for having a second child. Her husband, Deng Jiyuan, told media large numbers of officials arrived at their home and forcibly took his wife to hospital.

CHRD said forced abortions were rarer than in the 1980s, but nonetheless still happened, especially when local family planning officials were undertaking campaigns to meet targets.

"Often they say they're carrying out a campaign to improve compliance. The next thing they will give a report on how many women are forced to abort or forced to be sterilised. Not [that] these terms [are used], but how many procedures are carried out," said Ms Wang.

The authorities claim China's one-child policy has spared the country 400 million extra births, although campaigners say this figure ignores the fact that birth rates would have fallen as the country urbanises and becomes wealthier.

There are wide variations in how the policy is carried out, with rural couples whose first child is a girl, and members of ethnic minorities, typically allowed two children.

Among the majority Han group, a second child is allowed if both the mother and father are only children, a measure introduced since the policy was brought in. Despite the exceptions, about 60 per cent of couples in China are thought to be covered by the one-child rule.

Coercion should not be used with any family-planning policy, said Corinna-Barbara Francis, a member of the China team at the human-rights organisation Amnesty International.

"We would consider it to be a very grave situation where a woman was forced to abort," she said. "It seems there are less cases being reported, but it's very difficult to conclude there's less use [of forced abortions]."

CHRD's 2010 report, I Don't Have a Choice over My Own Body, said "coercion and violence" were used to restrict the number of children couples had.

The report claimed officials were given bonuses, promotions or pay rises for hitting targets for abortions, sterilisations and the fitting of contraceptive devices.

Enforcement of the one-child policy is believed to be uneven, with officials taking a much stricter line if they have failed to meet their targets.