China’s family planning police are widely hated and feared by the Chinese people. And who can blame them?
For the past three and half decades, the family planning police have been the enforcement arm of China’s brutal one-child policy, carrying out the Communist Party’s mandate that couples have no more than one child, or no more than two if the first child was a girl.
Couples who did not comply with the policy could face forced abortion, confiscation of property, the imprisonment of family members, and astronomical fines—equivalent to 3 to 10 years of the family’s annual household income.
Women have suffered the most. Millions of women have been required to have an IUD inserted after the birth of their first child. Those who gave birth to more children than the number allowed by the Communist Party were often forced to be sterilized.
For decades, children who were born without government permission were forced into the shadows. Without a birth permit they were considered “illegals” in the eyes of the state and were denied any and all benefits. They were ineligible to attend government schools or receive care from government health clinics. Later in life, these “illegal” children would also be ineligible to work for the government or even to get married.
Years ago, a woman told PRI investigator Josephine Guy that she was forced to flee to a neighboring county to give birth to her second child. When the local family planning officials discovered that she had gone into hiding, they ransacked her home, broke down all the doors and windows, and jackhammered holes through the roof and floors of the house. They moved on to the house of her in-laws and did the same thing. The population control police proceeded to imprison her family members who were detained until she paid a fine equal to about two to three times her annual household income.
In 2013, Sky News reported on one woman’s experience with the family planning police. In the middle of the night, the police broke down the front door of her house and dragged Liu Xinwen from her bed. She was taken to a local hospital where her child was forcibly aborted.
“They don’t have any humanity. They are not humans,” Liu told Sky News.
Since the one-child policy began in 1979, over 336 million children have been aborted under the watch of China’s population control police, according to the China Ministry of Health.
Last October, the Chinese government announced that it would be changing its one-child policy to a two-child policy this year. While many have perceived this as a loosening of the planned birth policy, it still remains illegal in China for women to have a third child.
Even after the announcement of the two-child policy, abuses have continued. Some like Sarah Huang (her real name is not disclosed for fear of retribution from the Chinese government) have already experienced coercion first-hand under China’s new two-child policy. In a Congressional testimony this past December, Huang revealed that, in spite of the new policy, she and her husband were not allowed a second child:
“My husband and I have wanted a second child for many years. So after finding out we were pregnant we were of course very happy. Especially when we heard that the one child policy had been cancelled, and thought our problems had been solved…until we heard from my husband’s employer (the Chinese government) that the abortion would be mandatory if we failed to present proof that I had an IUD installed. Since then, my husband has been threatened and given a deadline to prove that the abortion has been completed successfully; otherwise he will lose his job.”
It was at this time that we went into hiding.
As long as the Communist Party maintains some version of its planned birth policy and continues to maintain its army of population control police, units which are stationed in every town and district across the country, abuses will continue.
But perhaps if China’s family planning police were abolished, human capital could be re-invested in helping families rather than forcing women to abort their children. A joint project of the Shaanxi Normal University and Stanford University’s Rural Education Action Program (REAP) is now training a limited number of family planning officials to help parents learn techniques to improve their child’s cognitive development.
As the BBC reports, some family planning officials who were once despised by locals now travel rural villages bearing bags full of toys, books, and games. Classrooms and play centers have also been set-up in several places and parents are being taught the importance of reading, singing and interacting with their children for their child’s early cognitive development.
Although fewer than 100 family planning officials have been trained for REAP, the program has caught the attention of prominent and influential members of the Communist Party. Already, China’s premier has adopted some aspects of REAP in national policy.
But memories of how these very same family planning officials enforced the one-child policy are still all too fresh in the minds of many.
Some REAP program participants continue to screen women for “illegal” pregnancies raising serious doubts as to whether the program is simply a way for the Communist Party to rebrand its coercive and brutal population control program.
“It is amusing to think that after decades of coercive planned birth policies that programs like REAP will transform this brutal police force into something resembling government nannies,” says Steven Mosher, President of the Population Research Institute and world renowned expert on China’s one-child policy.
“No less a figure than Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, has confirmed that the Chinese people must adhere to the government’s restrictive Planned Birth policy, even under the two-child regime,” Mosher says.
As long as population police are maintained, it is certain that forced abortions and human rights abuses will continue regardless of how many toys and games are distributed. Abolishing the family planning officials’ role as a police for women’s fertility and using them instead for constructive policies that respect human dignity is essential not only to protect human rights but also to ensure a viable future for China.
Decades of planned birth policies have created deeply skewed sex ratios where, in some provinces, more than 160 boys were born for every 100 girls. As male heirs are highly esteemed in Chinese culture, the limit imposed on couples to have only one or two children has led to millions of girls being selectively aborted on account of their sex. It is now estimated that over 30 million men will be unable to marry which could lead to mass emigration of potential laborers, increased sex-trafficking and exploitation of women, and increased civil unrest.
The planned birth policy has also crippled China’s prospects for economic growth. Since 2012, China’s labor force has been shrinking. According to the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) population projections, China is set to lose approximately 140 million working age persons by 2040 due to aging and fewer younger workers available to replace them. UNDESA projections also indicate that China’s over 60 population will increase by nearly 60% by 2050. It is almost certain that increasing retirement age dependency and a sharply declining labor force will slow China’s economic growth in the coming decades.
Giving former planning officials real work to do such as improving cognitive development of disadvantaged and rural infants and toddlers—instead of making women undergo forced abortions—could give children a significant boost early in life which will have ramifications for educational and employment opportunities later in life. Refusing to let children to fall behind at an early age could improve prospects for economic growth in China in the years to come.
But until China abolishes their family planning policies, none of this will mean an end to forced abortion, or change the fact that a ‘child development expert’ is still an agent of the state.
“Any “child development expert” who, in the course of handing out toys and advice, comes across a mother pregnant with her third child, will report her to his former colleagues,” Mosher says, “It’s hard to imagine that the “child development expert” will be welcome in the village after that.”