China's War Against Women and Girls

US Attorney Leads Charge Against One-Child Policy

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By Edward Pentin  

ROME, JUNE 2, 2011 (Zenit.org).- "China's one-child policy causes more violence against women and girls than any other policy on earth, than any official policy in the history of the world."

These are the passionate words of Reggie Littlejohn, a U.S. attorney who founded Women's Rights Without Frontiers -- an international coalition that opposes forced abortion and sexual slavery in China. A Californian who in her youth worked alongside Mother Teresa in the slums of Calcutta, Littlejohn first came into contact with the policy when she represented Chinese refugees seeking political asylum in the United States in the 1990s. 

"They had first been persecuted for being Christian and were then forcibly sterilized," she recalls. "That opened up two whole new worlds to me that I wasn't familiar with before."

Speaking with ZENIT while on a recent visit to Rome, Littlejohn summed up the one child policy as nothing short of a "Chinese war against women and girls." Forced abortions among women who violate the policy are commonplace in the country and sometimes carried out up to nine months of pregnancy. They can be so violent, Littlejohn says, "the women die along with their full term babies." 

But the brutality of forced abortion isn't the only human rights violation wrought by China's infamous "family planning policy." It leads to gendercide because of China's traditional preference for boys, leaving girls disproportionately subject to abortion, abandonment and infanticide. It results in sexual slavery as the elimination of baby girls has led to an increase in the trafficking of women from neighbouring countries into China, driven by an estimated 37 million more Chinese males than females.

And although the connection isn't fully proven, the policy may also be the cause of a high rate of female suicide in China (the World Health Organization says the country has the highest female suicide rate of any country in the world, with approximately 500 Chinese women ending their lives each day). "I don't think that's unrelated to forced abortion, forced sterilization and infanticide," Littlejohn says.

Nor is it only women and girls who are victims. According to numerous stories leaked out of China by individuals at risk of death, the government also applies a variety of ruthless methods on other family members in order to enforce the policy. "The tactics used are utterly terrifying," says Littlejohn. Recalling a documented incident in March of this year, she says that family planning officials came to the home of a man in order to seize his sister for enforced sterilization. "When she wasn't home, they started beating his father. When he tried to defend his father, one of the family planning officials took a long knife, plunged it twice into his heart and the man died. That's murder."

Yet so far, the murderer has not been detained, and despite the family trying to get the story out, the media refuse to report on it. "The family planning officials are above the law, they can do anything and get away with it," says Littlejohn. "What they're doing is terrorizing the population."

The statistics related to China's one-child policy are staggering. Since it was implemented in 1979, the authorities boast that 400 million lives have been prevented. The government also says about 13 million abortions are carried out every year. That amounts to 1,458 every 60 minutes or, as Littlejohn puts it, "a Tiananmen Square massacre every hour."

"What's ironic about this is that China instituted the one child policy for economic reasons," Littlejohn explains. "They wanted to reduce the number of rice bowls to fill to save money, but now it's really become China's economic death sentence."

She gives two reasons for this. The first is the gender disparity of 37 million extra males, which is driving human trafficking and sexual slavery within China and in surrounding countries. The second is that China will soon have an ageing population without young people to support them. She calls this a "senior tsunami" which she predicts will hit the country around 2030.

"They don't have social security and to my knowledge they don't have an effective plan on how to take care of this very large senior population that's coming soon," she says. For this reason she's concerned "about the beginning of life and end of life," and fears that if China is willing to force abortion at the beginning of life, "what might they force at the end of life when they are faced with a senior tsunami?" She notes that the Chinese have a culture of respecting the elderly, but wonders if support for euthanasia will gain ground when the demographic fruits of the policy are fully realized.

"Clearly the one child policy makes no sense to continue, so why keep it?" Littlejohn asks. "I believe the reason is not so much because it's a form of population control but social control."

Staying the course

Chinese authorities have said the policy will remain unaltered until at least 2015, although it has recently hinted it may allow a two-child policy. However, Littlejohn says that is unlikely to prevent forced abortion, sterilization or infanticide. Nor is it likely to improve the nation's demographics. A two-child policy already is in place in rural areas and among minorities if the first is a girl, but this has done little to prevent the widespread aborting of girls in a country with a heavy preference for boys.

In spite of the widespread violence and trauma inflicted by the authorities, Western governments have done little to pressure China to change. "They have been very disappointingly weak," Littlejohn says. "This should be the top issue among human rights activists because of size of China. One out of every five human beings is living under the terrifying grip of China's one child policy. And it's not just women but men. People say, 'Why doesn't the woman just try and run away and have the baby?' Well, she can't do that as then they will take it out on the father, brother, husband of the family."

She says U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has "come down pretty hard" on Chinese forced abortion, and that the Obama White House invited her to brief them about the issue and listened with concern. But she adds that the campaign has not yet "translated into any action." Littlejohn believes governments don't want to rock the boat because they owe China so much money.

Moreover, she says both the United States and the United Nations are helping to finance the policy through the UNFPA (United Nations Family Planning Fund), as well as IPPF (International Planned Parenthood Federation), and Marie Stopes International. She says these organizations are operative "abortion providers" in China, and that although the United States cut funding to the UNFPA in 2001 because it was found to be complicit in the one child policy, the U.S. State Department restored funding in 2009.

However, grassroots support in the United States is growing to remove U.S. funding. As a result, Representative Renee Ellmers will introduce legislation that will cut financial support to the UNFPA, saving $400 million over the next ten years. Littlejohn stresses the bill still needs to pass through committee and be passed by the House to become effective, so there is still time for voters to pressure their members of congress about it.

On the positive side, this gruesome policy has inadvertently unified not only "pro-choice" and "pro-life" advocates in opposing forced abortion, but also brought religions together. Littlejohn points out that neither Chinese Christians, Jews, Muslims nor Buddhists support abortion, meaning that "believers in these religions who are forced to have these abortions see it as a form of religious persecution."

Yet despite the extent of the human rights tragedy, Littlejohn is optimistic things will change. "There's no way that this can be carried on for much longer," she says. "Either the Chinese Communist party will agree to end this atrocity, or it will end without their agreement."

A powerful short video made by Women’s Rights Without Frontiers on China's one child policy can be viewed here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjtuBcJUsjY 

An international petition against forced abortion and sexual slavery in China can be signed here: www.womensrightswithoutfrontiers.org/index.php?nav=sign_our_petition

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Edward Pentin is a freelance writer living in Rome. He can be reached at: epentin@zenit.org