China: Forced abortions fuel calls for change
July 23rd 2012
Recent reports of women being coerced into late-term abortions by local officials have thrust China’s population control policy into the spotlight and ignited an outcry among policy advisers and scholars who are seeking to push central officials to fundamentally change or repeal a law that penalizes families for having more than one child. Pressure to alter the policy is building on other fronts as well, as economists say that China’s aging population and dwindling pool of young, cheap labor will be a significant factor in slowing the nation’s economic growth rate. ‘An aging working population is resulting in a labor shortage, a less innovative and less energetic economy, and a more difficult path to industrial upgrading,’ said He Yafu, a demographics analyst. China’s population of 1.3 billion is the world’s largest, and the central government still seems focused on limiting that number through the one-child policy, Mr He said. Abolishing the one-child policy, though, might not be enough to bring the birthrate up to a ‘healthy’ level because of other factors, he said.
Beyond debate about the law itself, critics say that enforcement of the policy leads to widespread abuses, including forced abortions, because many local governments reward or penalize officials based on how well they keep down the population. Judging from the talk on microblogs across China and articles in state-run newspapers on forced-abortion cases, the one-child policy is being questioned more widely than in recent years. Last month it came under sharp criticism from a group of scholars and policy advisers at a forum at Peking University co-organized by the National Bureau of Statistics to discuss the results of the 2010 census. Scholars at the meeting were outraged by the plight of Feng Jianmei, a victim of a forced late-term abortion in early June whose case became widely known after photographs of her dead seven-month-old fetus were posted on the Internet by a relative. ‘I think the right to have children is the right of a citizen,’ said Zhan Zhongle, a law professor at Peking University who has sent a petition signed by scholars and business executives to the National People’s Congress urging its members to repeal the law.
Officials have made changes to the policy over the years, and by one estimate there are now at least 22 ways in which parents can qualify for exceptions to the law. But the majority of adults remain bound by it, and there is no sign its repeal is in the works. The National People’s Congress, largely a rubber-stamp legislature, is unlikely to take up Mr Zhan’s petition without support from the top levels of the Communist Party. Still, some former officials and scholars instrumental in helping to formulate the original policy were at the forum, raising hopes among longtime critics that the concerns would be heard among members of the National Population and Family Planning Commission.
Read the full article: The New York Times
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