In an attempt to limit the population of Muslim Uyghurs in western Xinjiang region, the Chinese government is forcing women into birth control or fitting in them contraceptive devices, according to a new research published on June 29.
This comes even as the government encourages some of the country’s Han majority to have more children.
While individual women have spoken out before about forced birth control, the practice is far more widespread and systematic than previously known, said the report based on government statistics, state documents and interviews with 30 ex-detainees, family members and a former detention camp instructor.
The campaign over the past four years in the far west region of Xinjiang is leading to what some experts are calling a form of “demographic genocide.”
The state regularly subjects minority women to pregnancy checks, and forces intrauterine devices, sterilization and even abortion on hundreds of thousands, the interviews and data show. Even while the use of IUDs and sterilization has fallen nationwide, it is rising sharply in Xinjiang.
The report says the population control measures are backed by mass detention both as a threat and as a punishment for failure to comply.
After Gulnar Omirzakh, a Chinese-born Kazakh, had her third child, the government ordered her to get an IUD inserted. Two years later, in January 2018, four officials in military camouflage came knocking at her door. They gave Omirzakh, the penniless wife of a detained vegetable trader, three days to pay a $2,685 fine for having more than two children.
Due to the campaign, birth rates in the mostly Uighur regions of Hotan and Kashgar plunged by more than 60% from 2015 to 2018, the latest year available in government statistics. Across the Xinjiang region, birth rates continue to plummet, falling nearly 24% in 2019 alone — compared to just 4.2% nationwide.
“The hundreds of millions of dollars the government pours into birth control has transformed Xinjiang from one of China’s fastest-growing regions to among its slowest in just a few years”, China expert Adrian Zenz said in his research.
“This kind of drop is unprecedented….there’s a ruthlessness to it,” said Zenz, a leading expert in the policing of China’s minority regions. “This is part of a wider control campaign to subjugate the Uighurs.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on June 30 condemned such coercive family planning against Uyghur Muslims by the Chinese authorities and said that continuous repression of minorities in Xinjiang region reflects that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has no respect for human life and basic human dignity.
“The United States condemns the use of forced population controls against Uyghur and other minority women and calls on the CCP to cease its campaign of repression. History will judge how we act today,” Pompeo said in a Twitter post.
For decades, China had one of the most extensive systems of minority entitlements in the world, with Uighurs and others getting more points on college entrance exams, hiring quotas for government posts and laxer birth control restrictions.
Under China’s now-abandoned ‘one child’ policy, the authorities had long encouraged, often forced, contraceptives, sterilization and abortion on Han Chinese. But minorities were allowed two children — three if they came from the countryside.
Under President Xi Jinping, however, those benefits are now being rolled back.
In 2014, soon after Xi visited Xinjiang, the region’s top official said it was time to implement “equal family planning policies” for all ethnicities and “reduce and stabilize birth rates.” In the following years, the government declared that instead of just one child, Han Chinese could now have two, and three in Xinjiang’s rural areas, just like minorities.
But while equal on paper, in practice Han Chinese are largely spared the abortions, sterilizations, IUD insertions and detentions for having too many children that are forced on Xinjiang’s other ethnicities, interviews and data show.
Experts outside China say the birth control campaign is part of a state-orchestrated assault on the Uighurs to purge them of their faith and identity, and forcibly assimilate them into the dominant Han Chinese culture.
“The intention may not be to fully eliminate the Uighur population, but it will sharply diminish their vitality, making them easier to assimilate,” said Darren Byler, an expert on Uighurs at the University of Colorado.
“It’s genocide, full stop. It’s not immediate, shocking, mass-killing on the spot type genocide, but it’s slow, painful, creeping genocide,” said Joanne Smith Finley, who works at Newcastle University in the U.K. “These are direct means of genetically reducing the Uighur population.”