Violence and Discrimination Against Tibetan Women

IV. Convention Articles 1 & 2: Reproductive Rights Violations

In its General Recommendation no. 19, the Committee concludes that coerced or compulsory sterilization and abortion are acts that adversely affect women's physical and mental health and are therefore considered forms of violence against women.These acts also violate the equal right of women to determine the number and spacing of children as provided in Article 16.

A. China's Assessment: "No Comment"

China's Report provides no information on violence against women in the form of violations of reproductive rights.China merely provides some information on its 'Program for the Development of Chinese Women,' approved by the State Council on 27 July 1995.This Program's goal is the improvement of women's health while guaranteeing the right to family planning.While violations of reproductive rights are not mentioned in its report, in 1997, Tu Den, director of China's Family Planning Office of Tibet, was quoted in the official China Daily newspaper as saying that "forced abortion and sterilization are absolutely non-existent."

B. Our Assessment: Tibetan Women Subjected to Gross Violations of Reproductive Rights

Our investigation was conducted in light of other highly credible sources that reported patterns of forced or coerced abortion and sterilization of Tibetan women. Interviews conducted by the Mission and by TCHRD were intended to determine what policies currently are in place, and to what extent the previously reported patterns of forced or coerced abortions and sterilizations are continuing.

We have found continued systematic violence against Tibetan women in the form of forced or coerced sterilization, contraception and abortion, including late-term abortion.These practices, because they prevent births, because they inflict physical and mental suffering, and because they sometimes result in deaths, would constitute acts supporting a finding of genocide if found to have been committed with the intent to destroy the Tibetans as a people, in whole or in part. Moreover, the coercion and violence used to prevent births of Tibetans, and the lack of a rational basis for limiting births among Tibetans, raise a strong inference of the Chinese government's intent to commit genocide.

Violations of reproductive rights in Tibet are inherent in China's "family planning" laws, policies and practices and must be understood in that context. Accordingly, we provide a brief review of these laws and practices in the context of Tibet.

1.China's "Family Planning" in the Context of Tibet

Any discussion of family planning in Tibet must begin by emphasizing that Tibet has never had a population problem and does not have a population problem today. Tibet contains more than 2.5 million square kilometers, about the size of western Europe. Fewer than six million Tibetans live in all of Tibet (there are 1.2 billion Chinese in China) making Tibet one of the world's more sparsely populated countries, even taking into consideration China's population transfer policies that have brought more than 7.5 million Chinese into Tibet.

Even before China's family planning policies went into effect, the population of Tibet had already been dramatically reduced by more than 1.2 million persons as a result of China's 1949 invasion of Tibet, the subsequent systematic use of both torture and forced labor by Chinese authorities, suicides of Tibetan people as a result of Chinese oppression, and regional famines induced by China's imposed agricultural practices.

Tibet's sparse population, therefore, cannot rationally justify policies designed to reduce the size of the Tibetan population further.Instead, China's policies and practices intended to prevent births of Tibetans should be viewed in light of the almost 50 year history of violence against Tibetans, and in light of the increasing number of ethnic Chinese being encouraged or compelled by the Chinese government to transfer into Tibet.

2.China's Official Program

The basic Chinese law is "one family, one child" for nationalities in China with over 10 million persons. The basic law is modified for nationalities having fewer than 10 million persons, but the rules vary widely from region to region and even within a local administration, apparently due to the powers of the local authorities to decide their own local rules and policies.These local rules are referred to as "administrative guidelines" rather than laws, and are accordingly not published in official gazettes. Information regarding the rules in certain areas of Tibet has been documented by copies of printed rules smuggled out of China, by piecing together the accounts of persons who worked in various regional administrations, and by obtaining as much testimony as possible from victims of these policies.

Chinese family planning practices include contraception (injections, insertion of cervical "rings," pills), sterilization, abortion, delay of marriage, and an enforced waiting period between births.Enforcement of family planning rules includes requiring permits to have a child, establishing regional quotas, administrative monitoring of menstrual cycles, and periodic exams to determine pregnancy.Penalties typically include fines, denial of benefits for unauthorized children, public criticism, loss of jobs or reduction in pay, and loss of housing.Local officials receive rewards such as cash bonuses, promotions, and other recognition only if their units meet the birth control quotas.Alternatively, local officials face severe reprimands and economic sanctions from the upper levels of the Chinese administration if they fail to meet their quotas.

Our investigation shows that the number of children permitted to Tibetans varies by district and employment.For instance, witnesses report that in Phenpo county, Tibetans are allowed two children and women cannot marry until age 25, although in some other areas, Tibetan women can marry at 22.There must be three years in between the birth of each child.The Mission interviewed many women who described coerced weekly pregnancy checks of women.In Tso Ngonpo (Amdo), government workers are allowed two children, nomadic people and farmers three.In other areas local administrators try to enforce a "one child" policy.Women are told that they will lose their jobs if they have an extra child.In Chushul, officials are allowed two children, farmers three.Family planning workers there conduct monthly checks of every household to ascertain pregnancy.

Fines vary widely and can reach 10,000 yuan (US $1200) for unauthorized children.Many women earn 600 yuan (US $72) per month, so a fine of 10,000 yuan is highly onerous.Typically, a third or fourth child cannot receive ration cards or identity papers, resulting in an inability to attend school or receive health care.Many fines are "monthly" and are deducted from pay.They can be so high compared to the monthly wage that women subject to such fines are effectively working for pay that is far below the subsistence level. The economic and social hardship of such fines is so severe that many women are coerced into birth control methods that they do not want and that violate their cultural and religious beliefs.Our investigations uniformly find that Tibetan women as a whole have been traumatized by these practices, and that those that have endured them experience great trauma, sadness and pain long after they are able to flee occupied Tibet.

3.Forced or Coerced Abortion

The most troubling of the practices of forced or coerced abortion occur when a fetus well into the second or even into the third trimester is poisoned or killed and then extracted from the womb. Several Tibetan women interviewed by the Mission had undergone such horrific procedures and others had witnessed them. For example, one women testified witnessing a late term abortion of her friend:

They injected a needle where the baby's head was.She was in labor pain for one hour.The baby was born and cried.Then it started bleeding from the nose and died....She had the abortion because she couldn't pay the fine.

A women from Phenpo witnessed a late term abortion in Phenpo in 1992 performed on a women six months pregnant at the time:

The injected a needle in her stomach, and she gave birth.The baby was delivered and put in a bowl.The baby moved for a few minutes and then died.The baby had a hole in its head.

Another woman reported on her observations at a hospital in Lhasa.She claimed that the hospital has a special abortion and sterilization unit for Tibetan women.She witnessed late term abortions on women already in their 7th or 8th months of pregnancy, and she saw the dead body of a male baby she thought to be about in the eighth month.The same witness also investigated two other hospitals in Lhasa -- Medhepuk Sober and Dewachu hospitals.Abortions were regularly performed Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with half-days on Thursday and Saturday.

Forced or coerced abortion in the first and second trimesters is also a rampant practice by the Chinese authorities in Tibet according to the persons we interviewed.For example, one 37 year old man from Kham witnessed nomadic people rounded up for abortions.His village job required him to participate in the annual roundups, where up to 200 women were aborted at a time. TCHRD has evidence that 113 forced abortions took place in one district alone in Amdo in 1997.A nun from a village one hour from Lhasa reports:

Most of the women in our village were forced to abort children.Nobody was allowed to have more than two children, and the third pregnancy was often forcibly aborted by injection.

4.Forced or Coerced Sterilization

Forced or coerced sterilization is also a common feature in Tibet. For example, in Chabcha, Amdo (Gungho District) an official document ordering forced "birth prevention" operations was issued in 1991. This document states that although appreciable results were obtained in the district since policies were started in 1982, the people's"stubborn adherence to old customs and traditions ...[resulted in] resistance to birth prevention operations."Even for those who had paid fines, "a birth prevention operation will be carried out before the end of 1991 or, in any case, within the year 1992 and no excuses or pretexts will be entertained as any reason for staying or postponing the operation any further."

TCHRD has received extensive testimony on coerced and forced sterilization of Tibetan women, including 300 women sterilized in Nyemo County (TAR) in 1997, 105 in Rebkhong (Amdo) in 1996/97, 113 aborted and 85 sterilized in Tso Ngonpo (Amdo) in 1997, 308 in Chushul (TAR) in 1996, and 190 in Lhasa in 1991/92. TCHRD also monitors government news regarding sterilization and indicates that the local (government controlled) radio in Amdo (Qinghai Province) announced in 1990 that 10 percent of women of child bearing age had been sterilized; the Civil Affairs Department of Shigatse reported in 1990 that a team had visited the remote Bhuchung District and 387 women there had been sterilized.1,092 out of 2,419 women in ten other districts were also sterilized.On February 2, 1992 the Lhasa Evening News announced that four sterilization teams had operated on 1,294 women in Lhundup, Nyemo and other counties.

The Mission interviewed a male health care worker who had fled Chushul in 1997. He described policies there that included the summoning of women between the ages of 15 and 49 for sterilization.He reports that in October 1994, every women who had already had two children was summoned for sterilization (about 300), but due to lack of personnel, only 84 could be sterilized at that time.A woman who disobeyed the summons was subject to a fine.For office workers, the fine was deducted from the pay checks.Farm women who could not pay the fine lost their land.

According to a witness from Ngapa (Amdo), women are brought from nearby villages by trucks to be sterilized. The sterilization team worker told this person "we have so many cattle to slaughter -- there are 30 to 40 women to sterilize." If the sterilization team did not meet their quota, they received a pay cut.This witness stated that women were selected for sterilization after one child.Her mother reported that in 1997, Tibetan nomads were brought into Ngapa under false pretenses and sterilized.For this witness, "the most important problem Tibetan women are facing is sterilization."

Another witness testified that her two sisters were involuntarily sterilized. Their area allowed Tibetan women to have three children, and after the birth of her older sister's third child the sister was sterilized.A witness from Deziom reported nine women sterilized in his village. One was pregnant at the time and no one knew what happened to the baby.He reported that a bus came at 5:30 in the evening and carried the women to a town nearby.The witness's aunt was also sterilized after having three children; she was a government worker and was threatened with the loss of her job if she did not submit.

A witness from Kham reported seeing thousands of women gathered for sterilization in Nyemo in the Summer of 1996. About three hundred were sterilized that day, including those with "fetuses below three months.[They were] bleeding like animals ...many too weak to even move."This witness claims the women were "literally dragged" against their will, and even had to pay for the operations.

5.Monitoring of Reproductive Cycles

One of the most troubling aspects of the China's family planning policies is the government's extensive monitoring of women's reproductive cycles.This monitoring includes highly intrusive surveillance, such as monthly or even weekly vaginal exams of women in their homes or following mandatory public meetings organized in many villages to monitor women's reproductive status. These practices are degrading treatment and therefore a form of violence against women.Such conduct also impinges greatly on women's privacy rights.

Several women interviewed by the Mission investigators described a frightening experience of hiding out from government officials who hounded women for pregnancy checks or abortions.One woman from Lhasa described her experience when pregnant with a third child: she avoided attending the birth control meetings and she moved from house to house in order to evade authorities who would look for her because she was not attending the meetings.She was finally intercepted in her seventh month of pregnancy, and told to report or they would confiscate her house.Although pressured to have an abortion, she resisted and paid a heavy fine when the child was born.

A 31-year old woman from Phenpo who left Tibet in May 1998 recalls being pressured by officials in Phenpo where there were weekly meetings where menstruation was monitored:

If the woman was not menstruating, she was given a blue tablet to remove the child or taken to the hospital to check them [sic] and get an abortion.The blue tablet caused heavy bleeding.

The same woman left Phenpo for Lhasa and describes the monitoring there:

The officials would come door to door with a list of married women and ask if they were menstruating.I said no.They did the exam.They told me I was one month pregnant.I could do a urine test.There was a Chinese woman official.She made me remove my pants and put an iron inside me that opened up and she also put her hand inside and checked.

A male health worker described the monitoring that took place in Chushul from 1991 to 1997.His team went to every house to check for pregnancy, utilizing a variety of methods, including "reading the pulse."

6.Absence of Male Birth Control

In addition to directing violence and coercion against Tibetan woman, China's family planning policies and practices are sexually discriminatory in nature.What is striking from the perspective of anti-discrimination laws is the extent to which women alone bear the burden of the Chinese government's efforts to limit or reduce the population.

The women and men we interviewed reported that China's family planning policies are aimed almost exclusively at women, from the regular "birth control meetings," to the birth control methods employed, to the various fines and penalties which are levied.With rare exceptions, no one interviewed by the Mission could think of any birth control measures aimed at men.

For example, one woman who gave birth to an unauthorized child in Lhasa was forced to pay substantial penalties out of her government salary, and was prevented from becoming a permanent worker. Her husband, who also worked in a government office in Lhasa, received no penalty.A number of other interviewees reported a similar experience.The woman from Lhasa also reported that birth control pills and abortions were available through the birth control personnel in her office, but stated that these personnel never taught about or distributed condoms.

A male health care worker reported that he was trained to perform abortions an sterilizations on women and added that "I was never trained in or saw any operations on men." Further, despite the fact that he went from house to house to monitor the menstrual cycles of women, "[i]t was not in the training for us to distribute condoms."He reported that men generally do not use condoms, although they are advertised.He further reported that if there is an unauthorized pregnancy in the family, the woman is penalized first; only if she cannot pay the fine will the man's salary be tapped.

A woman from Tso Ngonpo (Amdo), described regular birth control meetings where they instructed women to have abortions, take pills, or insert rings. She stated that men did not have to attend birth control meetings, and the officials never talked about birth control for men.A male teacher from Amdo, whose wife underwent an abortion, stated that "I have never heard of any birth control for men."

7.Eugenic Laws and Regulations

China's Report provides some information regarding the 1995 Law on Maternal and Infant Health (the Law) within its discussion of health care.The Report, however, omits important information regarding the provisions of the Law which we consider to be overtly eugenic and which should be considered in the context of China's family planning policies and practices in Tibet.In particular, Chapter II (Premarital health care) Article 10 provides, in pertinent part:

When either one of the couple is diagnosed to have a serious hereditary disease, which is medically deemed unsuitable for reproduction, the doctor should explain the situation and offer medical opinions to the couple.The couple may marry if they agree to take long-lasting contraceptive measures or give up child bearing by undergoing ligation.

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