The mainstream media billed it as possibly the “most dramatic policy change” in three decades of China’s one child policy, but that’s not how a leading campaigner to end forced abortion in China is viewing the latest announcement from Beijing.
Last week, the Chinese government told the world it would now lift the ban on parents having a second child, if just one parent is an only child. Many saw it as “easing” the one child policy.
But Reggie Littlejohn, director of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, has stressed that couples can already have a second child, if both parents are themselves only children. “This minor adjustment will not “ease” the one child policy,” she said. “It will merely tweak it.”
She pointed out that even China’s state news agency, Xinhua, played down the news, running an article over the weekend with the headline: “Birth Policy Changes Are No Big Deal.” The deputy director of the National Health and Family Planning Commission was quoted in the article as saying that “the number of couples covered by the new policy is not very large across the country.” He also said there was no unified timetable for starting the new policy and reasserted that the basis of the one child policy “will be adhered to over a long period of time.”
“In other words, the minor modification of the policy announced Friday will not affect a large percentage of couples in China,” said Littlejohn. “It is not subject to a timetable in which to implement it; it retains the dreaded “birth intervals” between children (if a woman gets pregnant before the interval has lapsed, she may be subject to forced abortion); it makes no promise to end the coercive enforcement of the policy; and it promises to continue the one child policy “over a long period of time” – which could be decades.”
To say that China has “relaxed” or “eased” the one child policy under these circumstances “is entirely unwarranted,” Littlejohn said. All the reasons given for this adjustment are “economic or demographic,” she added, and the latest policy adjustment is a “tacit acknowledgment” that the policy – already the cause of a dwindling labor force, a growing elderly population, and severe gender imbalance – will lead to economic and demographic disaster.
“It is ironic that through this very policy, China has written its own economic, demographic death sentence,” she said.
“Noticeably absent” from the announcement, Littlejohn continued, is any mention of human rights. “China has not promised to end forced abortion, forced sterilization or forced contraception,” she stressed. “The coercive enforcement of China’s one child policy is its core.”
She added that the problem with the one child policy is not the number of children “allowed” but the fact that the Chinese Communist Party is telling women how many children they can have and then enforcing that limit through forced abortion and forced sterilization. “Even if all couples were allowed two children, there is no guarantee that the CCP will cease their appalling methods of enforcement,” she said.
Chinese authorities have brutally punished those infringing the policy for decades, Littlejohn said, and that shows no sign of abating. Nor will the policy adjustment end gendercide – the sex-selective abortion of females. “Areas in which two children currently are allowed are especially vulnerable to gendercide,” she warned.
Gendercide has led to an estimated 37 million Chinese men who will never marry because their future wives were terminated before they were born. The gender imbalance has also become a driving force behind trafficking in women and sexual slavery in China and neighbouring countries.
“The Chinese Communist Party periodically modifies the one child policy, but the coercion at its core remains,” Littlejohn said. “Reports of these tweaks — especially when mischaracterized by western media — throw the human rights world into confusion and blunt genuine efforts to end forced abortion in China.”
“The one child policy does not need to be adjusted,” she concluded. “It needs to be abolished.”
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