New Evidence of Human Rights Abuse in China's One-Child Policy

Author: Rita Joseph


by Rita Joseph June 1995

With this week's Amnesty International revelations of torture and human rights abuse in China, the Australian Government, together with the Australian Federal Court, now face a dilemma. They face the delicate task of having to remove egg-on-the-face as discreetly and smoothly as possible. Both have been in denial mode, expressing official doubt that the Chinese Government has any direct involvement in authorizing the use of force in implementing its one-child policy. The Full Court of the Federal Court recently ruled that there was no evidence that forced sterilization formed part of the law or formal government policy in China. Now, however, Amnesty International has established once and for all and beyond doubt that the Chinese Government is directly and widely implicated in coercive fertility control practices such as enforced sterilization and abortion.

Some of the details are gruesome. Mary Meehan, in the National Catholic Register April 30, gave a disturbing account of illegal arrests and torture of those couples who have not complied with the government's one-child rule. Treatment ranged from being hung upside down, squeezed under chairs, tied to poles under the summer sun or tied outside their cells in freezing winter temperatures, to sexual abuse and the use of electrified batons.

Amnesty International has gathered its evidence with the usual painstaking thoroughness from many different sources. One major source, corroborated by other evidence, has been an appeal smuggled out of China, a plea called "Birth Control Through Torture" written by the villagers of Fengjiazhuang and Longtiangou, two small Catholic towns in Hebei Province. These two villages, according to Amnesty, were targeted in a birth control offensive started a year ago with the slogan "Better to have more graves than more than one child".

Family planning officials from the neighbouring town of Ciyu sent teams to the villages to collect fines, and those unable to pay were taken away and jailed in Ciyu. All those arrested, the appeal said, were injured. All were constantly chained hand and foot, even when they fainted or passed out. According to the Washington-based human rights group, the Puebla Institute, the authorities attacked and looted homes, arrested people indiscriminately and tortured the elderly.

Sooner or later, both the Australian Government and the Federal Court must come out of denial mode and officially acknowledge the horror of the abuses being systemically perpetrated under China's one-child policy. History will not judge kindly this extreme reluctance to face the terrible truth and to denounce Chinese Government abuses unequivocally. It has never been right to play along with official diplomatic cover-ups, under the feeble excuse that there has been no official confirmation by the offending government. It wasn't right at the time of the Holocaust and it isn't right now. How diligently the Allied governments tried not to know about what was happening in the Germany! They knew all right. The rumours had turned to detailed reports, and escapees brought reams of accumulated evidence that all dovetailed accurately. But officially there was no evidence. "Officially", that was the weazel word, the let-out, the escape word, so that when official evidence finally arrived, it was too late. For six million victims, it was too late.

For many of today's Chinese victims of the savage one-child policy, it is also too late. There is a distinct analogy to be acknowledged between China's one-child policy and Hitler's population policy. Human rights should not be tied either to the race or to the order in the family into which a human being is born. Yet second-born children are being exterminated in China, and their "second-ness" is very much like "Jewish-ness" in that a second Chinese child has no more control over his "second-ness" than a Jewish child has over his "Jewish-ness". It is no more possible for a second-born child in Jiang Zemin's China to hide, or to remove or to make reparation for the perceived offensiveness of his "second-ness" than for a Jewish-born child in Hitler's Germany to hide or to remove or to make reparation for the perceived offensiveness of his "Jewish-ness".

Anyone who genuinely doubts the persecutory nature of current atrocities associated with China's one-child policy, has only to read the incisive account furnished by Stephen Mosher to the Senate Inquiry on Australia's proposed new refugee laws. It was as a Stanford anthropologist working in a Chinese rural commune in 1980 that Stephen Mosher first alerted the world to the vicious nature of the one-child policy. The following are well documented by Mosher to be both routine and widespread:

* Forced full-term abortions: mothers arriving in labour at the hospital are asked for their child-bearing licences. Babies being delivered without a licence are given "the poison shot". A hypodermic syringe filled with iodine or formaldehyde is injected through a 5cm needle directly into the soft part of the baby's head as it crowns. The baby can take up to 48 hours to die.

* Detection of unauthorized pregnancies, even if it is a first pregnancy, means compulsory abortion. Mothers who express reluctance are subjected first to "study sessions", then to harassment; fathers who won't persuade mothers to abort are beaten and imprisoned, and extended family members are harassed, threatened, and fined daily for the mother's recalcitrance until the mother's "consent" is successfully forced. Higher authorities use the Nazi tactic of punishing the whole village or the whole factory for the escape of even one mother with an unlicensed baby.

The Keating Government must stop hedging on the issue of Chinese persecution of couples with unauthorized children. Without open, up-front condemnation of flourishing Chinese human rights abuses, it would be unbearably shameful and hypocritical if our delegation to the Beijing UN Women's Conference in September blithely joins China in ratifying the Beijing Platform of Action, especially Paragraph 96. This paragraph speaks of "...recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children... and their right to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence, as expressed in human rights documents."

An Australian Government that is even now seeking to narrow the definition of persecution and of refugee status to exclude victims of China's one-child policy, has absolutely no moral right to sign a genuine agreement with the principles of Paragraph 96. Senator Bolkus's Migration Legislation Amendment Bill (No4) is not compatible with the human rights principles expressed in the Beijing document. Perhaps Senator Bolkus needs to be reminded of the High Court's recent ruling that the Federal Government must make all decisions in accordance with the terms of its international conventions, even if they are not reflected in Australian law. Ratification by Australia is "not to be dismissed as a merely platitudinous or ineffectual act". Rather ratification is "a positive statement by the executive government of this country to the world and to the Australian people that the executive government and its agencies will act in accordance with the convention".

There can be no longer even a skerrick of moral rectitude in the Keating Government's continued acceptance of the Chinese Government's lies about human rights abuses endemic in the one- child policy as being merely "rogue applications" by a few overzealous local authorities. Refugees have been telling us differently.

Had some national governments accepted and listened to the refugees aboard the USS Saint Louis in 1939 and made a strong concerted condemnation then of Hitler's Jewish population policy, the terrible course of the Holocaust and perhaps even World War II may have been averted. Perhaps these Chinese refugees now reaching Australian shores are bringing a similar warning about the futility of appeasement. We should listen to them.