Dissent, China's One Child Policy and Chen Guangcheng

While the U.S. State Department and Chinese officials wrangle over Mr. Chen's fate, the larger questions concern the horrific contours of government population control and the fate of those who dissent in China.
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China performs 13 million abortions a year. When Chen Guangcheng dared criticized the slaughter, the government of China threw him in prison for four long years. So, while the U.S. State Department and Chinese officials wrangle over Mr. Chen's fate, the larger questions concern the horrific contours of government population control and the fate of those who dissent in China.

While the One Child Policy has been effective in drastically reducing Chinese birth rates, the measures adopted in its name have required exhaustive, violent, insidious and systemic violations of human rights. Starting in 1979, the government of China stripped women of their power over their bodies and erased a family's right to make the most cherished, private and fundamental decisions about their own future. Today, Chinese law dictates the number of children a family may have, and how close in age they must be. In more remote areas, ghastly regulations bring the full force of the police state to bear on any woman of child-bearing age. If she dares to defy the state's commands on her body, a young woman in China can be fined, and so can her family and neighbors. She can be beaten, ostracized or detained. The belongings of her entire family can be confiscated, their houses bulldozed, and her husband, parents and siblings held hostage until she turns herself in. When she gives in to authorities, she faces a state-ordered abortion -- with no regard for her health risks or religious beliefs, or viability of her child -- and forced insertion of an IUD. Even further, under Chinese law, a woman may be sterilized by the state if she has a second child, refuses IUD insertion, or fails to appear for one of the quarterly uterus inspections with the population police. According to the government of China itself, 38 percent of women of child-bearing age have been sterilized, and China performs 35,000 abortions a day, often conducted under coercion. The vast majority are gender selective, as boys continue to be favored over girls. If a woman manages, despite the odds, to give birth to this unsanctioned child, the full power of the socialist state will crash down upon her newborn infant, who will be denied a residence permit and education papers, restricted from employment and stripped of any child food subsidy. It's obvious that China faces a range of demographic and economic difficulties stemming from its own population growth, and that the global community has a vested interest in avoiding the worst impacts of that growth. But China cannot suppress its way out by silencing those who question the policy of slaughter. Imagine, instead, that the State challenges its people to a rigorous and open debate in the public square. With 1.3 billion heads put to the task, it's hard to imagine that a better, more humane and effective policy would not surface, one that could be adopted by countries facing similar issue across the globe. As China emerges as a global leader, it would do well to remember, in the words of Robert Kennedy, "The harshest dissent often goes hand in hand with the deepest idealism and love of country. " One of China's lesser-publicized tactics is to post a woman's name on a bulletin board in her community under the heading "birth: not allowed." It's a practice that works by enlisting her neighbors and friends as deputy family planning thugs, empowered to monitor her reproductive decisions and notify the police if she becomes pregnant. It's a brutally effective method -- and one the global community should take inspiration from in our fight to spread human rights in this nation of 1.3 billion and counting. The international community must rediscover its voice. We must commit to posting China's name ourselves, on the biggest bulletins boards on Earth: the global marketplaces of trade, politics and culture. Under the headline, "status quo: not allowed." Last week, the world was reintroduced to Chen Guangcheng after six years in detention. He is safe, he is free and he is ready to keep fighting. This time, he should do so with the voices of the world at his back. Kerry Kennedy is President of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.

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