U.S., Groups Hit China's 'One-Child' Policy; House Focuses on Breaches of Human Rights

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Byline: Marion Baillot, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

State Department officials and human-rights advocates addressed the issue of the systematic use of coercion by the Chinese government to implement its one-child family-planning policy during a hearing this month of the House International Relations Committee.

Though the 108th Congress is adjourned and the 109th has yet to be sworn in, the hearing was held because of the urgency of a human-rights case, said California Rep. Tom Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the committee.

Testimony focused on Mao Hengfeng, a Shanghai woman described by Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, as "a victim of forced abortion whose ongoing attempts to receive justice have resulted in her sentencing to 18 months of hard labor, during which she has been tortured, denied vitally needed medicine, and whose life is in danger today."

Mrs. Mao's troubles with the Chinese government began in the late 1980s when, pregnant for a second time, she asked her work unit to provide larger housing for her growing family. This was refused on the grounds that she was in violation of China's one-child policy.

Probably in retaliation for a hunger strike and protests, Mrs. Mao was confined to a psychiatric facility for six days in February 1989, during which she was given drugs intended to induce an abortion, which failed.

On her return to work, she was fired for "missing too many days of work." She initiated and won a suit for wrongful dismissal, but lost on appeal.

During her legal battle, Mrs. Mao became pregnant a third time. Told by the presiding judge that he would rule in her favor if she terminated the pregnancy, she reluctantly got an abortion in October 1990, but the court rejected her wrongful-dismissal claim.

Mrs. Mao led another protest at the court, which earned a month of involuntary psychiatric confinement, during which she says she was suspended upside down and beaten.

For the next decade, she continued her appeals for additional housing and against her firing.

Early this year, she joined thousands of petitioners seeking the attention of party leaders at the National People's Congress in Beijing. On her return to Shanghai in April, she was arrested and sentenced to 18 months of "re-education through labor" for "disturbing the peace."

Recently, family members have reported that Mrs. Mao is jailed among drug offenders who are allowed to abuse her, that camp police have strapped her down to her bed for hours at a time and had pulled her limbs apart for two days to force her to acknowledge wrongdoing, and that she is being force-fed an unidentified medication that turns her mouth black.

Mr. Smith, a leading critic of China's human-rights record, said he was "very fearful that the torture may lead to her death."

"The torture of Mao Hengfeng demonstrates that China's drive to control its population growth at any cost to the Chinese people is as strong and dangerous as ever," he said.

Sounding an alarm

In 1979, after years of encouraging reproduction, the Chinese government switched to a policy of one child per couple to slow the growth of its population, now at 1.3 billion. China's leaders thought the country was overpopulated and would be able to achieve economic prosperity only through population control.

People who support the one-child policy say it has reduced China's population by 250 million. They say it is an effective tool for China to continue to support and feed its large population, that education is expensive and families can concentrate their resources on one child, and that women are able to build careers instead of raising large families.

However, those testifying before the House International Relations Committee sought to sound an alarm.

"The one-child policy is the most pervasive source of human-rights violations in China today," said Harry Wu, a human-rights activist who spent 19 years in Chinese labor camps. …