At least once a year, the same rumour circulates: China is about to do away with its 30-year-old one-child policy. By the time the rumour finally becomes fact, it may make little difference to the birth rate in China, which has fallen so much that a
shortage of young workers is already threatening mainland economic development, according to demographic experts. But it will make a big difference to women who, under the policy, are subjected to forced abortions.
Feng Jianmei is one of those women. In June last year, she was forced to abort her seven-month-old foetus, and pictures of her lying next to the small, bloodied corpse went viral in China and around the world. Most people in China do not support forced abortions and the Feng Jianmei incident provoked an outcry on Chinese social media sites . Just before November’s leadership transition, a six-months pregnant mother of two in northern China’s Shandong province was bundled into a van, driven to a hospital and subjected to a chemically induced abortion, according to All Girls Allowed, a US anti-abortion group. The woman’s husband told the group that government officials later paid him Rmb40,000 ($6,400) in compensation, perhaps fearing the news could cause controversy before the transition. No one knows how many women have been forced to abort late in their pregnancies since the one-child policy took effect in 1979, because no statistics are published. Demographers believe that recently the number has not been high because most officials prefer to fine couples after births rather than attract attention to a forced abortion – though forced abortions in the first trimester are common. But the difference in Feng Jianmei’s case was the existence of photographic evidence, which was widely circulated online – and, crucially, the fact that local media were allowed to report the incident. “There has been no change in the one-child policy,” says He Yafu, a Chinese demographer, “but [the Feng Jianmei case] was a...
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