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While blind Chinese dissident lawyer Chen Guangcheng and his family are reportedly free to leave China, millions of Chinese women are left behind to deal with the horrors of forced abortion and sterilization.
The diplomatic tempest between the United States and China that surrounded Guangcheng’s escape from house arrest — including the ineptitude displayed by the Obama administration in facilitating his release from China — has been well documented.
However, lost in the diplomatic uproar has been little detailed discussion of the actual issue that caused Guangcheng’s imprisonment in the first place: namely, his opposition to the Chinese government subjugating women to undergo forced abortions and sterilization in adherence to the country’s “one-child policy.”
Adopted in 1978 to curb China’s huge population growth, the one-child policy limits Chinese families to one child per couple. While the policy was initially proclaimed by the Chinese government to last only a generation, it has morphed into a permanent campaign of institutionalized violence against women and girls.
In addition to forced abortions and sterilization, that violence includes violators of the one-child policy — including whole families– sentenced to prison, forced labor camps, beatings, home arrest, severe fines, and loss of jobs.
Those abuses have been highlighted extensively by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, a commission created by Congress to monitor human rights in China.
In its recent annual report, the congressional commission noted Chinese “official campaigns, as well as numerous individual cases in which officials used violent methods to coerce citizens to undergo sterilizations or abortions or pay heavy fines for having ‘out-of-plan’ children.”
For its part, the Chinese government has steadfastly denied that it is forcing women to submit to abortions and sterilization given that both activities are illegal under Chinese Law. However, detractors say those laws are often ignored by government officials whose promotions are tied with keeping birthrates low in adherence to the one child policy
Guangcheng shed light on that point in 2005 when he organized a class-action lawsuit against Chinese family planning officials in Shandong Provincefor forcing at least 7,000 women to undergo sterilization or late-term abortions in an effort to meet birth rate quotas mandated by the one-child policy.
For his efforts, Guangcheng was sentenced in 2006 to 51 months in prison before being released in 2010 and held under house arrest at his family’s farmhouse in Shandong Province, from where he recently escaped to find sanctuary at the American embassy in Beijing.
Yet, while the Chinese government may be upset over Guangcheng’s efforts to shine light on the seamier side of the one-child policy, it is quite happy to discuss the overall effects of the policy, which it considers to be a rousing success.
Specifically, despite today having the largest population on earth with more than 1.34 billion people, according to China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission, the one-child policy has been able to prevent more than 400 million births in China.
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