Why are there so many forced abortions in China on women who fail to comply with the nation’s family planning policy that allows couples to have only one child?
Dr Jackie Sheehan, senior fellow at the China Policy Institute and associate professor at the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham in England appears to have the answer.
In a new article she’s written in the South China Morning Post, Sheehan says “powerful financial and personal incentives” exist for local officials to ensure “forced
abortions and sterilizations continue on mainland despite calls to reform family planning laws.” As Sheehan writes:
Coercion and violence are integral parts of the system. The people who track down pregnant women to carry out unwanted terminations do it not because they are evil or unfeeling. They do it because of powerful incentives to meet family-planning targets.
Disappointing their superiors by failing to meet targets has serious career consequences, whereas violating the rights of ordinary citizens, an occasional international scandal notwithstanding, results only in temporary suspension or demotion. The understanding is that local officials do whatever dirty work is necessary to keep the numbers right and in turn their bosses look after their interests.
These social compensation fees have become a vital component of local officials’ income, covering overtime, bonuses, pensions and travel expenses. China Human Rights Defenders has highlighted the financial rewards and penalties on offer to family-planning officials on performance-related pay. Officials lose points for every out-of-quota birth in their area and earn cash bonuses for every abortion and sterilization they enforce.
Dr. Sheehan talks about the case of Feng Jianmei in her article. The forced abortion sparked international outrage as the picture of Feng and the body of her aborted baby lying next to her in a hospital bed circulated the Internet.
Chinese officials have paid $11,000 to a woman forced to have an abortion seven months into her pregnancy, according to her attorney. The lawyer said the woman appreciated the financial compensation but said nothing would make up for the forced abortion and the taking of her baby’s life.
According to multiple news reports, Zhang Kai, the lawyer for the woman and her husband, Deng Jiyuan, said the couple agreed to the settlement of 70,000 yuan, but that the couple faces “spiritual pain” that will endure a lifetime. The state-run Xinhua news agency said the money was meant to avoid any further legal entanglements over the abortion, adding, “The signing of the agreement means neither party should raise any question related to the issue again.”
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Feng was forced to have the abortion after the family was unable to pay the 40,000 yuan fine for violating China’s one-child policy and two local officials were reportedly fired over the forced abortion case. Sheehan said:
In Feng’s case, the authorities have agreed to a 70,600-yuan compensation deal with her family. But despite renewed calls from government researchers and academics to amend the one-child policy, these abuses will continue. The head of Feng’s local family-planning bureau has reportedly been removed from his
post. It would be surprising if he were not, inside a year, either back in the job or in another one of equal or greater rank.
Feng Jianmei’s family have been called traitors for speaking to foreign media and have had demonstrators organised by officials surrounding their home. Even if more women were to brave the risks of going public, until it ceases to be in the state’s interests to enforce the one-child policy, the complaints of a few brave individuals will not stop official abuses of power.