June 17, 2005 Volume 7 / Number 23
Those who believe in true reproductive choice won a victory for Chinese women and their husbands this week, voting to keep the ban on funding the U.N. Population Fund in place.
Steven W. Mosher President
PRI Weekly Briefing 17 June 2005 Vol. 7 / No. 23
Human Rights Triumphs Over UNFPA Population Controllers
Population control forces lost a battle yesterday when the U.S. House voted by a substantial margin not to restore U.S. funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). In this case, “population control forces” is particularly suited to identify those pushing UNFPA funding, since “pro-choice” can in no plausible way describe them.
UNFPA assists Communist China in her population control efforts. No one disputes this. China’s population control program is coercive. Just about no one–outside of Chinese government officials–disputes this either. So when UNFPA assists and subsidizes China’s population control program, it at least indirectly helps China coerce women into having no more than their government-allotted quota of children.
Obviously, when you give someone money to do one thing, this frees up funds that can be used to do other things. So when UNFPA distributes contraceptives and performs other services in China, this frees up Chinese population control money to go to the coercive aspects of China’s program. But UNFPA’s involvement goes further than this.
In China, women-and their husbands-who have more than one or two children (depending on their situation and the area in which they live) face heavy fines (called “social compensation fees”), loss of medical coverage, denial of educational benefits for their children, and loss of employment, policies that UNFPA has assisted in various ways.
As recently as 2001, UNFPA officials have said nice things about China’s population control program. Time-Asia on August 29, 2001, quoted Sven Burmester, the United Nations Population Fund representative in Beijing, as saying: “For all the bad press, China has achieved the impossible. The country has solved its population problem.” AFP had the same fellow saying on Oct. 11, 1999: “China has had the most successful family planning policy in the history of mankind in terms of quantity and with that, China has done mankind a favour.”
China has no intention of abandoning her population control policy, despite her dramatically depressed fertility rate. The State Commission for Population and Family Planning said in January that, though the average number of children per family has gone from 5.8 in the early ’70s to 1.8 today (replacement rate fertility would be 2.1), it wanted to continue its population control program for “a long period.” “The big population remains a major issue for China in the present stage and a key factor obstructing the country’s economic and social development,” said a commission official, according to the state-owned People’s Daily. “Family planning will continue to be a basic state policy that we must adhere to in a long period.” Apparently, Chinese families would choose to have more children if they were left alone, because the official said, “If the family planning policy is loosened, the country is very likely to experience a boost in population growth.” The People’s Daily editorial page went even further, calling for the population control program to be made permanent.
Despite all the evidence of abuses, UNFPA shows no signs of wanting to leave China. Nor are pro-UNFPA forces in Congress urging it to do so. UNFPA and its supporters simply claim that UNFPA does not operate in Chinese counties where coercion exists, and that its presence in China has had a moderating effect on China’s Draconian practices. The evidence contradicts the first claim, and there is precious little support for the second, given the continued pervasiveness of coercion in China and that country’s ongoing decline in fertility.
A year after a 2001 PRI investigation determined that UNFPA’s efforts in China were closely tied to those of the Chinese government, the U.S. Department of State came to the same conclusion. This prompted the Bush Administration to invoke a legal provision called Kemp-Kasten and direct international family planning money away from UNFPA. Secretary of State Colin Powell reaffirmed that decision in a July 15, 2004 letter. “In July 2002, I determined that UNFPA’s support of, and involvement in, China’s population-planning activities allowed the Chinese government to implement more effectively its program of coercive abortion. . .,” he wrote. “[A]s in 2002, UNFPA continues its support and involvement in China’s coercive birth limitation program in counties where China’s restrictive law and penalties are enforced by government officials.”
Referring to the defeated amendment introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D.-N.Y.), which would have restored $34 million in UNFPA funding, pro-life human rights champion Rep. Chris Smith (R.-N.J.) said, “As violations of human rights go, coercive population control in China is among the worst and most degrading systematic abuse in human history. Last December, I chaired a hearing focused on Mrs. Mao Hen Feng-a Chinese woman who has been imprisoned and tortured because of her resistance to coercive population control. The UNFPA was nowhere to be found in her defense. . . Mrs. Mao-and millions of women like her-needs advocates, not accommodators and enablers of abuse. We must stand with the victims-the oppressed, not with the oppressor. At a minimum, we should not lavish millions of dollars on the friends of the oppressor like the UNFPA.”
When we sent an investigative team headed by Josephine Guy into Sihui County, Guangdong Province, China in the fall of 2001, we found the local UNFPA official working hand in glove with Chinese population controllers. “The investigative team was told by officials that UNFPA’s representative in Sihui and Chinese family planning officials work from the same office, the Sihui County Office of Family Planning,” we reported. “PRI investigators spoke to Chinese officials in this office, and inquired about UNFPA. PRI investigators were shown by these officials the UNFPA desk. Photographic evidence of the UNFPA office desk within this office was obtained by PRI’s photographer. Local officials told PRI investigators that there is no distinction between UNFPA’s program in Sihui and the Chinese family planning program in Sihui.” And what was going on in Sihui at that time? “By many victims and witnesses of coercion, PRI investigators were told that. . . coercive family planning policies in Sihui include: age requirements for pregnancy; birth permits; mandatory use of IUDs; mandatory sterilization; crippling fines for non-compliance; imprisonment for non-compliance; destruction of homes and property for non-compliance; forced abortion and forced sterilization.”
Chinese officials claim to have gotten out of the demolition business since then, and that coercion is a thing of the past, but pregnant women, on the run from population control officials, continue to seek sanctuary in PRI’s Chinese safe houses because they fear being forcibly aborted. Even Chinese officials admit that tactics such as “social compensation fees,” loss of employment, and the denial of other benefits continue. These “fees” range from one-half to ten times the average annual household income in China.
This time around, the move to restore UNFPA funding went down to defeat on the House floor 192 to 233, a much larger margin (41) than the tiny three to five votes in the recent past. Maybe even a few pro-choicers are starting to believe Chinese women should have the right to choose to bear children.
Joseph A. D’Agostino is Vice President for Communications at PRI.