Dead Newborn Infant Lies In Gutter Like Trash In China

 

Source: Marie Claire magazine,  June 2001

 

A morning in the Chinese province of Hunan brings an unimaginable sight of cruelty and horror. Lying in the gutter of a bustling main road is the tiny, twisted body of a dead baby girl. She is naked, surrounded by only dirty pieces of hospital gauze. Buses and bicycles speed past the corpse, spraying it with mud.

Nameless and unwanted, the newborn’s been dumped by the roadside during winter. Few of the locals hurrying by give her a second glance. To them, she is just one of thousands of baby girls abandoned each year as a result of China’s ruthless one-child policy. “I think the baby had just died,” says a woman who was the only person to attempt to rescue the infant. “I touched her skin, and it was warm. Blood was still coming out of her nose.”

Under China’s strict family-planning laws, couples in urban areas are allowed only one child; couples in most rural regions can try for a second if their first-born is a girl. Those who have an illegal baby are subject to crippling fines, sterilization, and other severe penalties. To avoid punishment, many parents go to the desperate measure of deserting their illegal offspring. If their child is a girl--considered less valuable than boys in rural, traditional parts of China, like Hunan--the chances of this heartbreaking fate are immeasurably higher.

 

 

To the Chinese authorities, abandoned girls are merely worthless trash. “I called the emergency services, but nobody came,” says the woman who found this latest little victim. (For fear of official reprisal, she wishes to remain anonymous.) “The baby was lying right near the government tax office, so many people in government just walked past.” Eventually, an old man picked up the child, put her in a box, and dropped her in a garbage bin. When the police finally arrived, they showed no interest in investigating her death. They instead arrested the woman who’d tried to save her. “I took some photographs, because it was so terrible; the police were more worried about my pictures than the baby,” she says. The police only released the woman once she handed over her film.

 

The chilling death of this baby, and countless others like her, reveals the gross inhumanity behind the enforcement of China’s one-child policy. The world’s most populous country with 1.3 billion people, China introduced the policy in 1979 in response to a rapid increase in the birth rate under former leader Mao Tse-tung, and a fear that the exploding population couldn’t be fed. Today, China’s leaders claim that the policy has been a great success, preventing an extra 300 million births.

 

Most Chinese recognize the need to keep the birth rate down, but the government’s methods continue to cause untold misery. “What’s happening since the one-child policy was introduced as a national catastrophe,” says Wu Hongli a woman’s aid worker in Shanghai who does outreach work in rural communities. “So many families have lost their children and had their lives destroyed.”

While abandonment is shockingly common, say Wu, some parents who give birth “outside the plan” are so terrified of being caught, they even kill their child. “One father dropped his daughter down an old well so no one would ever know she existed.”

 

Each region in China has a target “birth quota” for the number of babies allowed to be born per year. Local government offices and state-owned factories appoint female staff to monitor every woman’s menstrual cycle. Before conceiving a baby, women must have a “birth permit”; those who don’t, or who’ve already given birth have their contraceptive usage monitored. Though condoms and the Pill are available, the most common form of birth control is the metal IUD; it’s inserted at government clinics and detectable by X-ray to ensure it hasn’t been removed without authorization.

 

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Officially, the state condemns the use of force or cruelty in enforcing quotas. But in practice, officials feel pressure to achieve low birth rates or face disgrace and demotion, causing many to resort to brutal tactics. Population officials, “abortion squads” regularly conduct midnight raids into the homes of women suspected of becoming pregnant illegally. These squads drag offenders into custody and detain them until they submit to an abortion, even if they’re eight to nine months pregnant.

Gao Xio Duan, a former population-control official who fled to America three years ago, spoke out about the methods used to terminate illegal pregnancies. Describing herself as a “monster”, she told a U.S. Congressional committee how she had helped doctors inject lethal formaldehyde into babies’ skulls during forced abortions. “I saw how the baby’s lips were sucking and how its limbs were stretching,” she said of one such instance. “Then the doctor injected the poison into its head, and the child died and was thrown in the trash.”

Some pregnant women try to avoid capture by going into hiding. But often, they return after the birth to find their homes burned to the ground and their other family members beaten or persecuted. In an extreme case last year, a man in Changsha, a Hunan province, died after being tortured for refusing to reveal the whereabouts of his pregnant wife. If couple successfully give birth to an illegal baby, the face further punishment, including fines of around 10,000 yuan ($1500)--seven times more than the average peasant’s annual income--compulsory sterilization, forced confiscations of property. Children born this way are denied schooling, medical care, and other social benefits.

Many peasants believe only sons can carry on the family line. “They think it greatly dishonors their ancestors if they don’t produce a male heir,” says outreach worker Wu Hongli. Also, daughters usually live with their husband’s family after marriage and are, therefore, considered a wasted investment. “Although the one-child policy allows many rural couples to have another baby if their first is a girl, it spells disaster if their second child is also female,” says Wu. Such unwanted girls are often dubbed “maggots in the rice”. In northeast China, one man was so distraught when his second-born was a girl that he smothered bother her and his other healthy daughter. “It is a sin not to have a boy. I will try again for a son when I get out of prison,” he told police.

In China’s modern cities, the traditional desire for boys has all but disappeared. But coupled with the one-child policy, its endurance in the country side is having devastating social consequences. An estimated 17 million girls are “missing” from the population nationwide. Infanticide and abandonment account for some of these lost females, with those who survive ending up in bleak state orphanages--if they’re lucky. Other factors include sex-selective abortion, which are technically outlawed, but are still readily available through the use of ultrasound for a small bribe. According to official figures, 97.5 percent of all aborted fetuses in China are female. Failure to register the birth of girl babies is another factor; it’s believed many parents hide their daughters, or sell them to infertile couples, thereby making them invisible to authorities.

The result is a chronic imbalance in the male and female populations. Already, millions of rural Chinese men are unable to find a wife. To overcome this, young girls who leave their villages to look for work are often tricked and drugged by traffickers and then sold to older single men in distant provinces, where they don’t even speak the same dialect. This imbalance is set to worsen, too. A decade ago, the birth records of boys versus girls in some countryside areas where two to one. Today, the ratio is often as high as an alarming six to one.

Still, the Chinese government remains committed to its one-child policy. Wu Hongli despairs over this situation. “Of course, population is a serious issue,” she says, “but so are human rights. The authorities are making no attempt to implement more humane family planning.” She also laments official apathy toward teaching the population about the equal value of baby girls. “Educational programs have had a lot of success in rural areas, but there is still a vast amount to be done. So many tragedies are ignored every day that it makes me want to cry. ”Looking at the anonymous baby girl whose brief life ended on a roadside only a few weeks ago, it’s impossible not to feel the same way.

Copyright 2010 Talia Carner