Few issues divide more sharply than abortion. Longstanding friendships and family relationships can rupture over the pro-choice/pro-life debate. But on the International Day of the Girl Child, we should agree to bury the hatchet on two issues: the ending of gendercide through sex-selective abortion, abandonment, deadly neglect, and murder of females because of their sex; and the ending of forced abortion, which is not a choice.
For most of us, the words “it’s a girl!” are cause for enormous joy, happiness, and celebration. But in many countries, this phrase can be a death sentence. In fact, the words, “it’s a girl” are some of the deadliest words on earth. According to one UN estimate, up to 200 million women are missing in the world today due to “gendercide,” the selective abortion, abandonment, or deadly neglect of baby girls just because they are female.
Forced abortion is not a choice. This is not a pro-choice or a pro-life issue. This is a human rights issue.
The One-Child Policy Hurts Women
The Chinese Communist Party boasts that it has “prevented” 400 million lives through its brutal One-Child Policy. That is a greater number than the entire population of the United States and Canada combined. Each one of these 400 million lives “prevented” is a victim of communism. This is the hallmark of communist regimes: the peacetime killing of their own citizens
China’s One-Child Policy causes more violence against women and girls than any other official policy on earth and any other official policy in the history of the world. China has the highest female suicide rate of any country in the world. According to the 2013 US State Department China Human Rights Report, female suicides have risen sharply in the past several years, from 500 women per day to 590.
There is a strong correlation between sex-selective abortion and coercion. Crushing social, economic, political and personal pressures in cultures with a strong son preference trample women carrying girls. All too often, women in these cultures do not “select” their daughters for abortion. They are forced.
Sons traditionally carry on the family name, work the fields, and take care of their parents in old age. A daughter joins her husband’s family at marriage. There is a saying: “Raising a girl is like watering someone else’s garden.” The One-Child Policy exacerbates the underlying son preference. When couples are restricted to one child, women often become the focus of intense pressure by their husbands and in-laws to ensure a boy.
A woman need not be dragged out of her home and strapped down to a table to be a victim of forced abortion. Persistent emotional pressure, estrangement from the extended family, threat of abandonment or divorce, verbal abuse, and domestic violence often overpower women who otherwise would choose to keep their daughters.
A medical study from China has revealed another way in which women are victimized by the One-Child Policy: significantly increased risk of breast cancer. Researchers in China have found that the dramatic rise in breast cancer in China is associated with the prevalence of induced abortions (IA) under the One-Child Policy.
The study, conducted by a team of epidemiologists from Tianjin Medical University Cancer Hospital, analyzed data from over 36 different studies in both the United States and China. Their conclusion: “IA [is] significantly associated with an increased risk of breast cancer among Chinese females, and the risk of breast cancer increases as the number of IA increases.” The study found that one IA increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer by 44 percent, two by 76 percent, and three by 89 percent.
The study notes that historically, China has had low breast cancer rates when compared with Western nations, but “the incidence of breast cancer in China ha[s] increased at an alarming rate over the past two decades.” The study notes that this rise “was paralleled to the one-child-per-family policy.”
The strong association of abortion and breast cancer established by this study brings the women’s rights violations under the One-Child Policy to a new level: a woman pregnant in China without a birth permit is subjected to both government-imposed forced abortion, and also breast cancer as a result of it. Where abortion is forced, the subsequent development of breast cancer becomes a violation of women’s rights in itself.
Gendercide Hurts Society, Too
Systematic, sex-selective abortion constitutes gendercide. Because of this gendercide, there are an estimated 37 million more men than women in China today. The presence of these “excess males” is the driving force behind human trafficking and sexual slavery, not only within China but from surrounding nations as well.
Further, the One-Child Policy is causing a “senior tsunami.” The Chinese population is aging rapidly, with no young population to sustain it. According to figures provided by political economist and demographer Nicholas Eberstadt, China’s working population peaked in 2013 at about 73 percent and is now beginning a steady decline, projected to reach 67 percent in 2030. Meanwhile, the ratio of China’s population ages 55-64 to its population ages 15-24 will increase from about 30 percent in 1990 to 140 percent in 2030.
Bottom line: China will grow old before it grows rich. China’s population problem is not that it has too many people, but that it has too few young people.
Together, China and India comprise one third of the world’s population. That one third of the world’s women are deprived of their right to bear girls is the biggest women’s rights abuse on earth. It is a woman’s right to choose to give birth to her daughters. This is the true War on Women, and it deserves a passionate response from groups that stand for women’s rights.
And these problems are not confined to China and India. Female feticide happens in the United States and Canada in numbers significant enough to distort gender ratios. This is discrimination against women in its most violent form.
China Has Not Eased Its Brutal One-Child Policy
Under the misleading headline, “China to Ease One-Child Policy,” Xinhua News Agency reported last year that China will lift the ban on a second child, if either parent is an only child. But it was already the case that couples can have a second child if both parents are themselves only children. Indeed, in apparent response to the overly optimistic speculation that this small change represents a major reform, Xinhua ran another report soon after the original announcement: “Birth Policy Changes Are No Big Deal.” In this second article, Wang Pei'an, deputy director of the National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC), is quoted as saying that “the number of couples covered by the new policy is not very large across the country.”
The minor modification of the policy that took place on January 1, 2014: 1) will not affect a large percentage of couples in China; 2) is not subject to a timetable in which to implement it; 3) retains the dreaded “birth intervals” between children (if a woman gets pregnant before the interval has lapsed, she may be subject to forced abortion); 4) makes no promise to end the coercive enforcement of the policy; and 5) promises to continue the One-Child Policy “over a long period of time”—which could be decades. To say that China has “relaxed” or “eased” its One-Child Policy under these circumstances is entirely unwarranted.
A Reason to Hope
Fortunately, there is hope. Women’s Rights Without Frontiers has launched the “Save a Girl” Campaign in rural China. We are stopping gendercide, one baby girl at a time. We have field workers in China who reach out to women who have had an ultrasound, learned that they are pregnant with a girl, and are planning to abort or abandon her. A field worker will visit that woman and say, “Don’t abort your baby just because she’s a girl. She’s a precious daughter. We will give you a monthly stipend for a year, to help you support her.”
The practical support we offer empowers these women to keep their daughters. By the time the girl is three months old, she’s laughing and smiling and the whole family is in love with her. They can’t imagine life without her and thank us for saving the life of their daughter.
This is what gets me out of bed in the morning—knowing that there are babies in China who are alive today because of our efforts. It is astonishing how little money it takes to save someone’s life in China.
With the help of Congressman Chris Smith, Jing Zhang, Hu Jia and other brave souls in the United States and China, we were able to obtain safe passage from China to the United States for Anni and Ruli Zhang, the daughters of veteran pro-democracy activist Zhang Lin, who is currently serving a three-and-a-half year jail sentence for standing up for ten-year-old Anni’s right to go to school. My husband Robert and I have taken Anni and Ruli into our family and are raising them as our own daughters.
Every struggling mother in China and India deserves help to keep her daughter. Together, we can end forced abortion and gendercide and sweep these atrocities against women into the dung heap of history, where they belong.