By Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 16, 2009 ( – A panel of human rights activists at the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission last week heard testimony about the Chinese government's atrocities against women and families. One prominent U.S. lawmaker on the panel urged President Obama to confront the issue during his state visit to China this week. 

“In effect since 1979, the coercive one-child policy is, in scope and seriousness, the worst human rights abuse in the world today,” said U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Ranking Member of the Commission who chaired the hearing.  “Few people outside China understand what a massive and cruel system of social control the one-child policy entails.”

Though the Chinese government has downplayed the coercive aspects of its one-child policy, on-the-ground investigators and other sources affirm that Chinese officials deal with unregulated pregnancies with tactics unheard of in Western countries.  These include staggering fines – as much as ten times an average Chinese couple's yearly income – as well as harassment, beatings, destruction of property, forced sterilization, and forced abortion.

One Chinese woman who testified entered the room wearing a black cloth over her head, and sat behind a screen to guard her from cameras.  She told the panel how she went into hiding after becoming pregnant without a birth permit in 2004, but underwent a forced abortion after Chinese officials discovered her.  She said the officials had detained and beaten her father to learn her whereabouts.

“In the end of surgery one nurse showed me a part of the bloody foot, with tweezers, through my tears and the picture of the bloody foot [was] engraved in my eyes and into my heart. I clearly saw five small bloody toes,” said the woman, who used the name Wujan.

“The body of the baby was thrown into a trashcan.”
Human rights activists say that the experiences of women like Wujan help explain why China has the highest female suicide rate in the world. About 500 Chinese women commit suicide every day, five times the national average.  

Women's Rights Without Frontiers founder Reggie Littlejohn confirmed that the Chinese government has stated its intention to continue its coercive one-child policy for several more years.

“When we say forced abortion, what do we mean? We mean women being literally dragged out of their homes in the middle of the night, or even in the middle of the day as in the case of this young woman, strapped down to tables, pleading and crying and being forced to abort their babies,” said Littlejohn.

Rep. Smith criticized the United States' lax attitude towards China's human rights atrocities, particularly in the “airy spirit” of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's first visit to China earlier this year.

“Human rights are trivialized by China, and the United States has been sending a message that profits and money-making trumps human rights,” said Smith, who is also a senior Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. 

“As President Obama embarks on this trip, we appeal to him to seriously raise the plight of Chinese women,” he continued. “It is outrageous that the Obama Administration lavishly funds – to the tune of $50 million – organizations, including the U.N. Population Fund, that partner with China's National Population Planning Commission.”

At a Chinese town hall event Monday, President Obama questioned some of the Chinese government's other repressive policies, such as those regarding religious freedom and information technology, but did not touch on the coercive one-child policy.

“These freedoms of expression and worship; of access to information and political participation, we believe are universal rights,” said Obama. “They should be available to all people, including ethnic and religious minorities; whether they are in the United States, China, or any nation.” 

Obama is expected to discuss human rights issues in private meetings with Chinese leaders during his visit.