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China, the UNFPA, and ‘Reproductive Rights’


May 17, 1999

Volume 1/ Number

China, the UNFPA, and ‘Reproductive Rights’

Zhu Qingping begged not to be sent back to China. Eight months pregnant with her second child, she was certain that she would be aborted upon arrival. Let her remain in the immigration detention camp at Port Hedland, Australia, until she gave birth, she pleaded with government officials. After that her baby would be safe, and they could do what they wanted with her.

The Australian Ministry of Immigration was concerned enough about the situation that it reportedly approached Chinese authorities for assurances that Mrs. Zhu would not be forcibly aborted if she were returned to China. They were emphatically reassured that Mrs. Zhu would not be persecuted upon her return. In fact, Chinese officials went on, she would be awarded the permit necessary to bear her second child, and mother and baby would be fine.

For reasons known only to himself, Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock chose to believe the Chinese government rather than Mrs. Zhu. He allowed the deportation to go forward, at the same time, unwittingly, signing the death warrant of her nearly full-term baby. Upon her return to her native city of Beihai, Mrs. Zhu was met at the plane by population control officials, who took her immediately, and against her will, to be aborted. She was ten days from her due date.

We know all this because Mrs. Zhu, at great personal risk, secretly told her story on videotape last month. In the tape, which was subsequently smuggled out of China, she tearfully recalls how the Australian immigration officials told her that she and her baby would be safe following their return to China. “I thought the official was telling me the truth,” she recalled. “Actually he tricked me by saying that the government would give me a birth permit upon my return which would permit me to have my baby.”

Mrs. Zhu, whose story became public after Australian Senator Brian Harradine accused immigration officials of callously ignoring her pleas, has disappeared from her home in Dijiao, China. It is not known whether she is on the run from the authorities, or in their custody.

Twenty years of documentary and anecdotal evidence leaves little doubt that China’s brutal one-child policy is routinely enforced by coercion-principally forced abortion and forced sterilization. The official Chinese government position is that its program is entirely “voluntary.” This would be laughable, were the reality not so cruel. Coercion is not the exception, but the rule. China’s so-called “Technical Policy on Birth Control,” for example, mandates abortion (euphemistically called “remedial measures”) for women who are pregnant “outside the plan.”

How could the Australian Ministry of Immigration not know that a forced abortion was Mrs. Zhu’s fate? How could they not see through the bland assurances of smooth-talking Chinese officials who were willing to promise anything if only Mrs. Zhu were returned into their custody?

Mrs. Zhu’s case will also impact the debate over U.S. funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), now that it is once-again collaborating with China’s one-child policy.

How can an agency that calls itself pro-choice, that brags about promoting “reproductive rights,” justify involvement with a government that sterilizes and aborts women against their will?

The answer, according to the UNFPA, is that it has received “assurances” from the Chinese government that these abuses will end, at least in the 32 counties where UNFPA will be active. In the UNFPA’s Shangri-La, there will be no forced abortions and sterilizations, no targets and quotas, no violations of human rights, and so on. The UNFPA, repeating the mistake of the Australian government, is taking China’s promises at face value.

Mrs. Zhu, wherever she may be, has learned from painful experience that her government’s word is not to be trusted. So should we.

Steve Mosher is the president of Population Research Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to debunking the myth that the world is overpopulated.

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