LOS ANGELES -- While hundreds of Hollywood celebrities gathered this week to support a Feminist Majority Foundation effort to pressure Afghanistan's Taliban rulers to end their oppression of women and girls, China continues a quieter assault on women and their preborn children.
A couple who live in China's Zhejiang province recently survived a harrowing experience at the hands of authorities. They were punished for having a second child, which is against the dictates of the Beijing regime. Wu (not his real name) was interviewed by a mutual friend who witnessed the events that Wu describes. The tape of that interview was carried out of China and sent to me.
Wu says every female of childbearing age in China is required to visit a family-planning inspection center three times per year. If the woman has one child and doctors determine she is pregnant again, she is forced to have an abortion.
Four years after their son was born, Wu and his wife (he is a pastor of several house churches) prayed about having another child. But the family-planning authorities had "put something in her to keep her from getting pregnant again." The device he describes sounds like a cervical cap.
When a doctor noticed the device posed a health risk, it was removed. Mrs. Wu soon became pregnant. This began a series of deceptions which the Wus hoped would allow them to go undetected. When the contraceptive device was replaced, Mrs. Wu was just two weeks pregnant and managed to avoid detection. Three months later it would be another story. So a woman who looked like Mrs. Wu and who had already had one child agreed to assume her identity and be inspected in her place. (Others who had tried similar trickery and been discovered were forced to abort.)
The next inspection would be more difficult. An identity card was required. So was a marriage certificate, a document that records the birth of children and personal photographs. Prior to that inspection, a family-planning campaign had been conducted. From midnight to 6 a.m. authorities visited neighborhoods looking for signs -- such as crying babies -- of "extra" children. If they discovered a woman pregnant with a second child, she was taken away, sometimes in the middle of the night, and given an abortion.
Some women are caught in their eighth and ninth months, and the fully formed child is killed. Midwives who try to help by secretly delivering second or third children have their licenses revoked if they are caught.
The second Wu child, another boy, was born at home. The Wus contemplated paying a friend to keep the baby, but the cost was prohibitive. Though Mrs. Wu did not breast-feed her son two months prior to the next inspection in hopes that her milk would dry up, she was found out and detained by authorities, who questioned her relentlessly. They demanded a fine of up to $7,000 U.S. Unable to pay, she was locked in a room with 10 other people, a filthy toilet, no bathing facilities, piles of trash and mosquitoes.
Wu pleaded with the authorities to lower the fine. They refused and threatened to immediately sterilize his wife. He offered to exchange places with his wife so she could care for the baby. The family-planning authorities agreed. He was held for eight days, and the fine was lowered to around $3,500 U.S. Friends loaned him the money, and he was released.
The family-planning police took Mrs. Wu to the hospital where her tubes were tied. The baby is reported to be fine, and the Wus are back in their home. In spite of their terrorizing experience, they are among the more fortunate ones. No one is sure of the exact number of babies forcibly aborted in China.
The Clinton administration says it will formally criticize China's human rights record before the U.N. Human Rights Commission. Its focus will be on political activists. But it should widen that to include the persecution of people like the Wus.