The four-year campaign in the Xinjiang region is a form of ‘demographic genocide’, say some experts
The Chinese government is running a birth control program aimed at Uighurs, Kazakhs and other majority Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, according to an Associated Press investigation. Above, Uighur children play outdoors in Hotan, in the Xinjiang region of western China. (By Han Guan / The Associated Press)
The Chinese government is taking draconian measures to reduce birth rates among Uighurs and other minorities, as part of a comprehensive campaign to contain the Muslim population, while encouraging part of the Han majority in the country to have more children.
Although individual women have previously spoken about forced birth control, the practice is much more widespread and systematic than previously known, according to an AP investigation based on government statistics, state documents and interviews with 30 ex-detainees, family members and a former detention camp instructor. The campaign over the past four years in western Xinjiang is leading to what some experts call “demographic genocide”.
The state regularly subjects minority women to pregnancy tests and forces intrauterine devices, sterilization and even abortion by hundreds of thousands, the interviews and data show. Even though IUD use and sterilization has dropped across the country, it is rising sharply in Xinjiang.
Population control measures are supported by mass arrests, both as a threat and as a punishment for non-compliance. Having many children is one of the main reasons why people are sent to detention camps, according to the AP, with the parents of three or more children away from their families, unless they can pay huge fines.
After Gulnar Omirzakh, a Kazakh born in China, had her third child, the government ordered her to have an IUD inserted. Two years later, in January 2018, four military camouflage officers knocked on his door anyway. They gave Omirzakh, the cashless wife of a detained vegetable trader, three days to pay a $ 2,685 fine for having more than two children.
If they didn’t, they warned, she would join her husband and a million other ethnic minorities locked up in internment camps – usually because they have many children.
“Preventing people from having children is wrong,” said Omirzakh, who went into debt to collect the money and then fled to Kazakhstan. “They want to destroy us as a people.”
Birth rates in the mainly Uighur regions of Hotan and Kashgar fell by more than 60% from 2015 to 2018, the last year available in government statistics. The hundreds of millions of dollars the government spends on birth control made Xinjiang from one of China’s fastest growing regions to one of the slowest in just a few years, according to new research obtained by the Associated Press before the publication of the scholar from China. Adrian Zenz.
“This is part of a broader control campaign to subdue Uighurs,” said Zenz, an independent contractor for the non-profit organization Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, DC.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Xinjiang government have not responded to several requests for comment. However, Beijing has said in the past that the new measures are merely fair, allowing Han and Chinese minorities to have the same number of children.
Under China’s now abandoned “one child” policy, officials have long encouraged, at times forced, contraceptives, sterilizations and abortions to Han Chinese. But minorities received two children – three if they come from the countryside.
That changed with President Xi Jinping, China’s most authoritative leader in decades. Shortly after he came to power, the government revised the birth regulations so that the Han Chinese from Xinjiang could have two or three children, as well as minorities.
Although on paper, in practice, Han Chinese are largely spared from abortions, sterilizations, IUD insertions and detentions for having many children who are forced into other Xinjiang ethnicities, show interviews and data. Some rural Muslims, like Omirzakh, have been punished even for having their three children allowed by law.
Forced birth control
Fifteen Uighurs and Kazakhs told the AP that they knew people interned or imprisoned for having too many children. Many received years, even decades in prison.
Once in detention camps, women are subjected to forced IUDs and what appear to be pregnancy prevention photos, interviews and data demonstrations.
A former detainee, Tursunay Ziyawudun, said she was injected until she stopped menstruating and repeatedly kicked her in the stomach during interrogations. Now she cannot have children and often doubles over in pain, bleeding from the womb, she said. Ziyawudun said that the women in her camp were required to undergo gynecology exams and obtain an IUD, and her “teacher” said they would undergo abortions if they were pregnant.
In 2014, just over 200,000 IUDs were inserted in Xinjiang. In 2018, that number jumped more than 60%, to almost 330,000 IUDs. At the same time, IUD use has dropped sharply in other parts of China as many women have started removing the devices.
Chinese health statistics also show a sterilization boom in Xinjiang.
The budget documents obtained by Zenz show that, starting in 2016, the Xinjiang government began to inject tens of millions of dollars into a birth control surgery program. Although sterilization rates have dropped elsewhere in the country, they have risen seven times in Xinjiang from 2016 to 2018, for more than 60,000 procedures.
Zumret Dawut, a Uighur mother of three, said that after her release from a camp in 2018, authorities forced her to be sterilized. Otherwise, they said that she would be sent back to camp.
“I was so angry,” she said. “I wanted another child.”
The birth control campaign is fueled by government concerns that high birth rates among Muslims will lead to poverty and extremism in Xinjiang, an arid, landlocked region that has struggled in recent years with knives and bombings attributed to Islamic terrorists. Although the program adopts tactics from China’s “one-child” policy, the campaign taking place in Xinjiang differs in that it is ethnically targeted.
“The intention may not be to completely eliminate the Uighur population, but it will dramatically decrease its vitality, facilitating its assimilation,” said Darren Byler, a Uighur expert at the University of Colorado.
Some experts take it a step further.
“It’s genocide, full stop,” said Joanne Smith Finley, a Uighur expert who works at Newcastle University in the UK. “It is not immediate, shocking, to massively kill the local genocide, but it is slow, painful and creeping genocide.”