China is carrying out forced birth control to Muslim population
The Chinese government is taking draconian measures to slash birth rates with Uighurs and other minorities
- Some experts are calling the four-year campaign in the region of Xinjiang form of ‘demographic genocide’
- The state subjects minority women to pregnancy checks, intrauterine devices, sterilization and abortion
- Birth rates in mostly Uighur regions, Hotan and Kashgar, plunged by more than 60 per cent from 2015 to 2018
The Chinese government is taking draconian measures to slash birth rates among Uighurs and other minorities as part of a sweeping campaign to curb its Muslim population, even as it 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, according to an AP investigation 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.’
Uighur children play outdoors in Hotan, in western China’s Xinjiang region. The Associated Press has found that the Chinese government is carrying out a birth control program aimed at Uighurs, Kazakhs and other largely Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, even as some of the country’s Han majority is encouraged to have more children
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 population control measures are backed by mass detention both as a threat and as a punishment for failure to comply.
Having too many children is a major reason people are sent to detention camps, the AP found, with the parents of three or more ripped away from their families unless they can pay huge fines.
After Gulnar Omirzakh, a Chinese-born Kazakh, had her third child, the government ordered her to get an IUD inserted.
Alif Baqytali hugs his mother, Gulnar Omirzakh, at their new home in Shonzhy, Kazakhstan. Omirzakh, a Chinese-born ethnic Kazakh, says she was forced to get an intrauterine contraceptive device, and that authorities in China threatened to detain her if she didn’t pay a large fine for giving birth to Alif, her third child. (AP Photo/Mukhit Toktassyn)
Gulnar Omirzakh prepares a kettle of tea in her home in Shonzhy, Kazakhstan on Saturday, June 13, 2020. ‘God bequeaths children on you. To prevent people from having children is wrong,’ says Omirzakh of the Chinese government. ‘They want to destroy us as a people.’ (AP Photo/Mukhit Toktassyn)
Two years later, in January 2018, four officials in military camouflage came knocking at her door anyway.
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.
This Saturday, June 13, 2020 photo shows a January 2018 document telling Gulnar Omirzakh, a Chinese-born ethnic Kazakh, that she must pay a fine of 17,405 RMB ($2685) for having a third child, at her new home in Shonzhy, Kazakhstan. She says she was forced to get an intrauterine contraceptive device, and that Chinese authorities threatened to detain her if she didn’t pay the fine for having a third child. (Courtesy Gulnar Omirzakh via AP)
If she didn´t, they warned, she would join her husband and a million other ethnic minorities locked up in internment camps – often for having too many children.
‘God bequeaths children on you.
To prevent people from having children is wrong,’ said Omirzakh, who tears up even now thinking back to that day.
‘They want to destroy us as a people.’
Alif Baqytali plays on a tricycle at his home in Shonzhy, Kazakhstan on Saturday, June 13, 2020. Baqytali’s mother, Gulnar Omirzakh, a Chinese-born ethnic Kazakh, says she was forced to get an intrauterine contraceptive device, and that authorities threatened to detain her if she didn’t pay a large fine for giving birth to Alif, her third child. (AP Photo/Mukhit Toktassyn)
Gulnar Omirzakh, second right, and her husband, Baqytali Nur, third right, eat lunch with friends and family at their home in Shonzhy, Kazakhstan on Saturday, June 13, 2020. Omirzakh, an ethnic Kazakh, says she was forced to get an intrauterine contraceptive device when living in China, and that authorities threatened to detain her if she didn’t pay a large fine for having a third child. (AP Photo/Mukhit Toktassyn)
Birth rates in the mostly Uighur regions of Hotan and Kashgar plunged by more than 60 per cent from 2015 to 2018, the latest year available in government statistics.
Across the Xinjiang region, birth rates continue to plummet, falling nearly 24 per cent last year alone – compared to just 4.2 per cent nationwide, statistics show.
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, according to new research obtained by The Associated Press in advance of publication by China scholar Adrian Zenz.
FILE – In this Sept. 20, 2018 photo, a Uighur child plays alone in the courtyard of a home at the Unity New Village in Hotan, in western China’s Xinjiang region. The hundreds of millions of dollars the government pours into birth control have transformed Xinjiang from one of China’s fastest-growing regions into one of its slowest in just a few years, according to new research obtained by The Associated Press in advance of publication by China scholar Adrian Zenz. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
‘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.’
The Chinese Foreign Ministry referred multiple requests for comment to the Xinjiang government, which did not respond.
However, Chinese officials have said in the past that the new measures are merely meant to be fair, allowing both Han Chinese and ethnic minorities the same number of children.
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, China´s most authoritarian leader in decades, 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.
Some rural Muslims, like Omirzakh, are punished even for having the three children allowed by the law.
FILE – In this Monday, Dec. 3, 2018, file photo, people line up at the Artux City Vocational Skills Education Training Service Center at the Kunshan Industrial Park in Artux in western China’s Xinjiang region. The Associated Press has found that the Chinese government is carrying out a birth control program aimed at Uighurs, Kazakhs and other largely Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, even as some of the country’s Han majority is encouraged to have more children. The measures include detention in prisons and camps, such as this facility in Artux, as punishment for having too many children. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)
FILE – In this Monday, Dec. 3, 2018, file photo, a guard tower and barbed wire fence surround a detention facility in the Kunshan Industrial Park in Artux in western China’s Xinjiang region. The Associated Press has found that the Chinese government is carrying out a birth control program aimed at Uighurs, Kazakhs and other largely Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, even as some of the country’s Han majority is encouraged to have more children. The measures include detention in prisons and camps, such as this facility in Artux, as punishment for having too many children. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)
State-backed scholars have warned for years that large rural religious families were at the root of bombings, knifings and other attacks the Xinjiang government blamed on Islamic terrorists.
The growing Muslim population was a breeding ground for poverty and extremism, ‘heightening political risk,’ according to a 2017 paper by the head of the Institute of Sociology at the Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences.
Another cited as a key obstacle the religious belief that ‘the fetus is a gift from God.’
Outside experts 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.
They´re subjected to political and religious re-education in camps and forced labor in factories, while their children are indoctrinated in orphanages.
Uighurs, who are often but not always Muslim, are also tracked by a vast digital surveillance apparatus.
‘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.’
For centuries, the majority was Muslim in the arid, landlocked region China now calls ‘Xinjiang’ – meaning ‘New Frontier’ in Mandarin.
FILE – In this Sept. 20, 2018 file photo, a mural depicting Uighur and Han Chinese men and women carrying the national flag of China, decorates the wall of a home at the Unity New Village in Hotan, in western China’s Xinjiang region. Outside experts say the government’s birth control campaign for Muslim minorities is part of a broader effort to forcibly assimilate the Uighur and Kazakh populations and rewire their culture, language and identity. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
After the People´s Liberation Army swept through in 1949, China´s new Communist rulers ordered thousands of soldiers to settle in Xinjiang, pushing the Han population from 6.7% that year to more than 40% by 1980.
The move sowed anxiety about Chinese migration that persists to this day.
Drastic efforts to restrict birth rates in the 1990s were relaxed after major pushback, with many parents paying bribes or registering children as the offspring of friends or other family members.
That all changed with an unprecedented crackdown starting in 2017, throwing hundreds of thousands of people into prisons and camps for alleged ‘signs of religious extremism’ such as traveling abroad, praying or using foreign social media.
Authorities launched what several notices called ‘dragnet-style’ investigations to root out parents with too many children, even those who gave birth decades ago.
‘Leave no blind spots,’ said two county and township directives in 2018 and 2019 uncovered by Zenz, who is also an independent contractor with the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, a bipartisan nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. ‘Contain illegal births and lower fertility levels,’ said a third.
Minority residents were ordered to attend weekly flag-raising ceremonies, where officials threatened detention if they didn´t register all their children, according to interviews backed by attendance slips and booklets.
Notices found by the AP show that local governments set up or expanded systems to reward those who report illegal births.
In some areas, women were ordered to take gynaecology exams after the ceremonies, they said.
In others, officials outfitted special rooms with ultrasound scanners for pregnancy tests.
‘Test all who need to be tested,’ ordered a township directive from 2018.
‘Detect and deal with those who violate policies early.’
Abdushukur Umar was among the first to fall victim to the crackdown on children.
A jovial Uighur tractor driver-turned-fruit merchant, the proud father considered his seven children a blessing from God.
But authorities began pursuing him in 2016.
The following year, he was thrown into a camp and later sentenced to seven years in prison – one for each child, authorities told relatives.
‘My cousin spent all his time taking care of his family, he never took part in any political movements,’ Zuhra Sultan, Umar´s cousin, said from exile in Turkey.
‘How can you get seven years in prison for having too many children? We´re living in the 21st century – this is unimaginable.’
Fifteen Uighurs and Kazakhs told the AP they knew people interned or jailed for having too many children. Many received years, even decades in prison.
Leaked data obtained and corroborated by the AP showed that of 484 camp detainees listed in Karakax county in Xinjiang, 149 were there for having too many children – the most common reason for holding them. Time in a camp – what the government calls ‘education and training’ – for parents with too many children is written policy in at leastthreecounties, notices found by Zenz confirmed.
In 2017, the Xinjiang government also tripled the already hefty fines for violating family planning laws for even the poorest residents – to at least three times the annual disposable income of the county.
While fines also apply to Han Chinese, only minorities are sent to the detention camps if they cannot pay, according to interviews and data.
Government reports show the counties collect millions of dollars from the fines each year.
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