Hospitals in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) were forced to abort and kill babies born in excess of family planning limits or who were in utero less than three years after the mother’s previous birth, according to a Uyghur obstetrician and other sources.
Hasiyet Abdulla, who currently lives in Turkey, worked in multiple hospitals in Xinjiang over the course of 15 years, including the XUAR Hospital of Traditional Uyghur Medicine.
Abdulla recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service how hospital maternity wards implemented family-planning policies that restrict Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities to three children in rural areas and two in urban centers. Enforcement of restrictions requiring women to space out pregnancies by at least three years included killing newborns who had been born after being carried to full term, she said.
According to Abdulla, every hospital in the region has a family-planning unit where employees keep detailed archival records on all pregnancies. They oversee abortions in cases where women have not allowed the proper time gap between pregnancies and also supervise the implantation of intrauterine devices (IUDs) following pregnancies, she said.
Abdulla’s claims follow a June 29 report about a dramatic increase in recent years in the number of forced sterilizations and abortions targeting Uyghurs in the region, which the author, German researcher Adrian Zenz, said may amount to a government-led campaign of genocide under United Nations definitions.
China did not make a spokesperson available for comment on this report, but when Zenz’s study on forced birth control came out in June, official media vilified him and said Beijing is ‘considering suing’ him for libel, while the foreign ministry denounced him.
“Every hospital had a family-planning unit that was responsible for implementation—who had how many kids, when they’d given birth to them—they tracked all of this,” she said.
“The regulations were so strict: there had to be three or four years between children. There were babies born at nine months who we killed after inducing labor. They did that in the maternity wards, because those were the orders.”
Abdulla told RFA that hospital family-planning units carried out the operations, including for women who were “eight and nine months pregnant,” adding that in some cases, medical staff would “even kill the babies after they’d been born.”
For babies who had been born at the hospital outside of family-planning limits, she said, “they would kill them and dispose of the body.”
“They wouldn’t give the baby to the parents—they kill the babies when they’re born,” she said.
“It’s an order that’s been given from above, it’s an order that’s been printed and distributed in official documents. Hospitals get fined if they don’t comply, so of course they carry this out.”
Population control measures
In his report, Zenz, a senior fellow in China Studies at the Washington-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, documented population control measures in the XUAR that include fines on Uyghur women with three or more children, mandatory pregnancy tests and examinations, and the forced implantation of IUDs or sterilization surgery.
“The so-called allegation that ‘millions of Uyghurs were detained’ was trumped up by an anti-China organization which receives significant financial support from the National Endowment for Democracy, and Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow in a research group on Xinjiang education and training centers set up by the U.S. intelligence community,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on July 15, in seeking to discredit Zenz.
The uptick in forced population control policies, which the report said had led to an 84 percent birthrate reduction in two majority Uyghur prefectures between 2015 and 2018, occurred in tandem with China’s campaign of mass incarceration of Uyghurs launched in the region in April 2017.
Women who refuse to undergo the procedures are detained in a network of internment camps, believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.
According to a June 8 report published on the official Xinjiang Web news site, an average of 8 million “extra” pregnancies are aborted in China each year. The report said that nearly 10 percent of women undergo a second such operation in their lifetimes, while almost three percent of women who are unable to have a second child have had such an abortion performed on them.
Urumqi News Online, another state-owned media outlet, has also reported that Chen Yanchun, the former head of family planning at the XUAR Women and Children’s Hospital in the regional capital Urumqi with more than 25 years of experience, said the hospital performs an average of 30, and maximum of around 60, forced abortions each day. He claimed that the family-planning unit at Women and Children’s Hospital performed 533 abortions in November 2019 alone.
Abdulla’s account of the role of family-planning units at XUAR hospitals was confirmed by Shahide Yarmuhemmet, a staffer at the family-planning office of Urumqi’s New City district from 1996 to 2011 who now lives in the Netherlands.
Yarmuhemmet said her office dealt with violations by performing forced abortions and that there were similar offices at every administrative level—including at the village level and even in some cases in every urban housing unit—that maintained the same mechanisms to implement family-planning policies in the region.
“In the countryside and on the local level, in every administrative zone down to the countryside and local levels, there are family-planning offices,” she told RFA, adding that people have to “apply and be approved before they can have a child.”
“The village cadres go into every house [to check up on women]—even individual apartment buildings have dedicated family-planning employees … They always know clearly who’s pregnant, and they report it to higher-ups. If a pregnancy happens outside the family-planning policy, they do an investigation and then performed a forced abortion.”
Yarmuhemmet confirmed that violations included having more children than allowed by state policy, as well as failing to wait at least three years between births.
RFA has been documenting the use of forced abortions in the XUAR—and particularly how Uyghur women are rarely given any other choice by the state—since at least 2005, when a family-planning cadre in Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture described the way family-planning officials would take women directly to government offices and hospitals to perform the procedures.
RFA recently spoke with a Uyghur woman named Bumeryem from Toquzaq township in Kashgar’s Kona Sheher (Shufu) county who fled the region for Turkey in 2016 but had been forced to have an abortion in 2004 while pregnant with her fourth child.
Despite her attempts to hide the pregnancy, local family-planning cadres eventually discovered Bumeryem’s secret and, after subjecting her to a series of threats, forced her to have an abortion at the Women and Children’s Hospital in Kashgar city, around halfway through her second trimester.
“[The family-planning cadres] told me I had to get an abortion because the pregnancy was my fourth, and they gave me an injection through my belly button—I paid 200 yuan (U.S. $29) [for the procedure] myself,” she said.
Bumeryem said she had considered giving birth to the child on her own and giving it to her brother to raise—a common practice by Uyghurs seeking to skirt family-planning restrictions—but her sister-in-law was worried that their family would be targeted by authorities.
“[The cadres] took me [to the hospital] and did the abortion at five months,” she said.
“It was a boy. We could find out [the sex] at five months … If my baby who was aborted were alive today, he’d be 15 years old.”
Bumeryem remembered recovering in a room with other women whose babies had been aborted at seven and eight months, as well as full-term.
“There were women there in even worse situations than mine,” she said. “I lay in my bed and cried.”
Over the past several decades, Uyghurs’ reports about family-planning policy implementation in the region have suggested that many instances of Uyghur discontent that were often portrayed by the state as “splittism,” and later as religious extremism and separatism, stemmed from frustrations with family planning.
Bumeryem mentioned one such incident in Toqquzaq in the early 2000s when a number of women were forced to have abortions because they had failed to wait the required three years between births, leading their husbands to attempt a demonstration that was quickly put down by authorities.
“They formed groups to abort and dispose of our children as they pleased,” she said. “It has become a form of oppression in our homeland.”
Birth control procedures
Even women who do not violate limitations on children under family-planning policies in the XUAR are routinely forced to undergo birth control procedures that include implantation of intrauterine devices (IUDs) and tubal ligation surgeries.
Several have described in recent interviews painful procedures that left them both physically and emotionally scarred and suggested such measures are part of a bid by the government to eradicate their ethnic group.
One woman—a neighborhood committee leader in Suydung (Shuiding) township, in Ili Kazakh (Yili Hasake) Autonomous Prefecture’s Qorghas (Huocheng) county—told RFA she had spent some 30 years going house to house and collecting fines from people who had violated family-planning policies.
Now 57, the woman who declined to provide her name for fear of reprisal said that knowing she was at risk of falling victim to the same punishments she helped to enforce, she took an unknown type of birth control pill for more than 10 years, which she believes caused her to lose her hair and experience memory loss.
“At first there were no side effects, but then [about a year later] my hair started falling out—now I have only a tiny handful of hair left, and scarves won’t even stay on my head,” she said.
“My memory is unusually bad. I can’t even memorize my childrens’ phone numbers. I think this might be the worst side effect of the meds … It started when I was 45 and has gotten a lot worse since I turned 50.”
The committee leader said she knows “40 or 50” people in her neighborhood that were suffering from similar symptoms.
“After seeing my hair fall out, my daughter elected to have [tubal ligation] surgery after she’d had her third child,” she said.
“[Local authorities ordered her to], but my daughter and I both agreed with it after seeing what can happen after taking the pill.”
Other sources have told RFA of IUDs that have had to be surgically removed years after they were implanted because they experienced severe vaginal bleeding, some of whom have learned that the device punctured their uteruses and likely left them sterile.
While IUDs are the most common form of birth control used by authorities to implement family-planning policies, tubal ligation—in which the fallopian tubes are tied and sometimes cut—is another favored method.
While surgeons can “untie” fallopian tubes that have been blocked in most tubal ligations, Chinese government-ordered surgeries generally involve the cutting of the tubes, making it much more difficult to undo.
Gross rights violations
Sophie Richardson, China Director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, called Beijing’s family-planning policies in the XUAR “gross human rights violations” and suggested that doctors and other officials enforcing them should be subjected to sanctions by the U.S. under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
“When people in other parts of the world carry out these kinds of horrible abuses, they’re held accountable before the law,” she said.
“[Enforcers of family-planning policies] have to know that this can happen to them, too. Where is the justice for all the Uyghurs who are suffering under these human-rights violations?”
At the end of July, the Trump administration sanctioned the quasi-military Xinjiang Production and Construction Corp (XPCC) and two of its current and former officials over rights violations in the XUAR.
The move followed similar sanctions last month against several top Chinese officials, including regional party secretary Chen Quanguo, marking the first time Washington targeted a member of China’s powerful Politburo.
Richardson noted that while Beijing claims family-planning policies are voluntary, “this is the same government that, for a long time, denied that anybody was arbitrarily detained in the Uyghur region at all.”
“It’s not exactly the government that you go to for accountability,” she said.
Richardson said that as Beijing continues to promote the narrative that everything in the XUAR is under control and that Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are content, the government should allow independent observers into the region to investigate reports of abuses.
Last month, sources told RFA that authorities in the XUAR are preparing local residents for visits with outside “inspectors” by ordering them to disavow knowledge of the family-planning policies detailed in Zenz’s report.
Reported by Gulchehra Hoja and Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Elise Anderson. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
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