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HELP CHINA HELP ITSELF

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NEW YORK, Sep 19 2005 (IPS) - As international leaders gathered at the United Nations in the middle of September to address plans to eradicate global poverty, the Bush administration notified Congress that it will withhold the U.S. contribution ($34 million) to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) for the fourth consecutive year, writes Kerry Kennedy, founder of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights. This aid provides vital services for the world\’s poorest women and girls, so why would the U.S. fail to help? Because, despite the U.S. State Department claims to the contrary, the administration asserts that the fund supports China\’s forced sterilization policy. The truth is, in order to change that policy, Washington should support the population fund, not cripple it. The U.S. government can leverage change. This is hard, because China is an important trading partner and increasingly holds more of the U.S. debt. So we also need to engage the international community. I take a back seat to no one in my horror at China\’s abuses in its one-child policy. To end them, we must support many efforts, and that includes the United Nations Population Fund. Elie Wiesel, who survived the Holocaust, said the opposite of love is not hate but indifference. We must no longer be indifferent to what is going on in China.

This aid provides vital services for the world’s poorest women and girls, so why would the U.S. fail to help? Because, despite the U.S. State Department claims to the contrary, the administration asserts that the fund supports China’s forced sterilization policy. The truth is, in order to change that policy, Washington should support the population fund, not cripple it.

Twenty-five years ago, China began a draconian effort through a massive violation of civil rights to control its rapid population growth. The communist government was unable to meet its people’s basic needs and thought that rising unemployment, poverty and hunger might be averted if every family had only one child. Using the force, surveillance and repression of a police state, China has indeed slowed its population growth, but at a terrible cost. The U.S. now has the opportunity to induce China to let go of coercion and to embrace freedom in its population policies, just as it has let go of economic coercion to embrace free markets.

In China, a woman who defies the one-child rule can be fined, as can her family and her village. She can be beaten, ostracized or detained. Her furniture, her cow, her pig might disappear. She may face a forced abortion it doesn’t matter if she is nine days or nine months pregnant. China says that in 2002 alone there were 6.8 million abortions. Too many were because of sonograms that showed the fetus was a girl, disfavored in a culture that prefers boys.

If the woman is lucky, the abortion may be followed by forced insertion of an IUD (Intrauterine Device). If she is not so lucky, she may be forcibly sterilized. Beijing says 38% of women of childbearing age have been sterilized.

Everyone in the world has a stake in ensuring that China and all countries develop as sustainable, free societies, and that their efforts to stabilize population respect human rights.

China promised to meet its human rights obligations in 1994 when it joined 179 nations at the International Conference on Population and Development, which agreed that all individuals have the right to decide the number and spacing of their children free of coercion, and to have access to voluntary, quality family-planning services. This rights-based approach to population issues has proved to reduce abortions, delay first childbirth, reduce births and improve the chances that the children will be wanted and cared for. It’s morally right, and it works.

What can we do to move China to keep its promise?

First, we should fully back the NFPA. In China, it is the only agency promoting voluntary family planning and upholding these human rights. Just because it operates in China does not make it complicit in human rights violations, as its critics have charged. Today, in those counties in China where the Fund operates, 90% of the women are choosing their own methods of birth control, and the abortion rate has plummeted from 70% to 30%.

Second, Beijing must be made to see that meeting human needs for health, education and opportunity is the best way to slow population growth.

Third, U.S. corporations can lead. For instance, a woman who is pregnant illegally is demoted or fired in much of China, so U.S. corporations can refuse to enforce such laws in factories in their supply chain.

The U.S. government can leverage change. This is hard, because China is an important trading partner and increasingly holds more of the U.S. debt. So we also need to engage the international community.

I take a back seat to no one in my horror at China’s abuses in its one-child policy. To end them, we must support many efforts, and that includes the United Nations Population Fund. Elie Wiesel, who survived the Holocaust, said the opposite of love is not hate but indifference. We must no longer be indifferent to what is going on in China. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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