Tibet Facts 9

The Quality Baby: Birth Control Policies in Tibet:

Discussion of population policies an allegations of forced &abortion.

The abuse of Tibetan women goes beyond torture and ill-treatment into the sensitive area of birth control. Not only do they face numerous pressures from the Chinese authorities to limit the number of their children, possibly to one, but there is growing evidence that women are being forced to have abortions and sterilisations.

Birth Control Policy

The PRC introduced stringent birth control measures in central China in the 1970s, setting itself the target of keeping the population under 1.2 billion until the year 2000. The method used to achieve this endeavour was the "one family, one child" policy. Officially this policy covers only "nationalities" in China with over 10 million members. Tibet, with a population of 4 5 million, is regarded as a "minority nationality" and is therefore, in theory, exempt from the provisions of family planning legislation. In practice, however, voluntary birth control has been actively promoted in Tibetan towns since the early-1980s (Tibet Information Network [TIN] Survey of Birth Control Policies in Tibet; March 1994; p. l). According to the report, the Chinese Government "encourages" the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) to comply with the official Chinese birth planning policy, promoting it through work units and birth control clinics.

Since the late-1980s in the TAR and since the mid-1980s in eastern Tibet, the authorities have progressively extended the range and impact of birth control policies (1994 TlN Survey; p.4). An article in China's Population News described the relaxation of family planning on account of "ethnic customs" as an "absolutely untenable proposition". Almost immediately, birth control in Tibet was tightened, imposing on the Tibetans a punitive family planning programme which included reports of abortions and sterilisations and even, allegedly, infanticide (Tears of Blood: A Cry for Tibet, Mary Craig, 1992; p.308).

Birth control policy was already in force in towns in the TAR in 1985, or three years earlier by some accounts. This was at a time when Beijing claimed such regulations did not apply to minority non-Chinese citizens. The statement was phrased, however, so as not to include Tibetans living outside the TAR, who have certainly been subject to birth controls since around 1982 (1994 TIN Survey; p.3). In Ganze, a Tibetan Prefecture within Sichuan Province, the birth control regulations show that Tibetan farmers and nomads there had been limited by law since at least 1989, and probably earlier, to a maximum of three children.

The May 1992 TAR Birth Control Regulations stated that Tibetans in towns are allowed only two children as long as the mother is at least 22 when she has the first child, and 25 when she has the second. The regulations, which were much more severe than the 1985 guidelines and implied the use of force, also extend birth control to Tibetans living in the countryside; the 1985 document only applied to town dwellers. The 1992 regulations state that Tibetans in the TAR who live "in the heart" of the countryside are encouraged not to have more than three children (TIN News Compilation Mar-Sep 1992, 1992; pp.22-23). In China's White Paper on Tibet, the Chinese Government said that the two-child policy had been in force in towns in the TAR since 1984 (1994 TIN Survey; p.3). Sterilisation was also compulsory in certain situations.

Abortion and Sterilisation

Abortion appears to be the major from of contraception in Tibet. This is largely due to a lack of contraceptive technology in Tibet and to the authorities, who have stated a preference for the "combined method", a term which is believed to mean combining abortion with contraception (1994 TIN Survey; p.17). For urban women, there are strong incentives to have only one child, and then abort any others or get sterilised. Women who comply receive bonuses which include an initial payment of 50 yuan followed by five yuan every month. Other incentives include priority for goods, job promotions, and free medical treatment for the child until they are 18 (Determination; Tibetan Women and the Struggle for an Independent Tibet, Carol Devine, 1993; p. 70). Women who don't comply with the law face fines, demotion and loss of bonuses Given these alternatives, women appear to have little choice about abortion.

There are frequent first-hand accounts by refugees of abortions- being carried out. Tashi Drolma, whose own second child was forcibly aborted, was one of four Tibetan doctors at an Amdo hospital, all of whom left their jobs in obstetrics in protest against the inhumanity of the birth control policies. A refugee from a village near Shigatse told the Dalai Lama that a Chinese doctor had admired to her that in order to fulfil his quota of abortions he was forced to kill the newborn (Craig; p.309).

By 1990, 3% of the 600,000 Tibetan women of child-bearing age in the TAR had "volunteered for sterilisation operations"; most if not all of these lived in towns. It is unlikely, however,that all these sterilisations were voluntary (1994 TIN Survey; p.19). While the law does not specifically demand abortions or the use of surgical controls, the effect of the law in practice, with its use of fines and other punishments, is that many women may feel forced to accept abortions and sterilisations There have also been allegations of physical force. According to second-hand reports, teams have been sent out to countryside areas for abrupt one-off sterilisation and abortion campaigns from as early as 1986. These birth control "blitzes", during which between 30 and 50 sterilisations a day were carried out, appear to be the sources of reports of violence (1994 TIN Survey; p.2). A report in The Guardian in 1989, claimed birth control teams were given financial incentives to perform as many sterilisations as possible. Many independent witnesses support this claim, describing how women - girls of 13 and 14, allegedly - were dragged off, screaming, by the truckload (Craig, p.309).

The extent to which physical force has been used is unclear. Human rights groups come to different conclusions about charges of coercive birth control policies in Tibet. A Campaign, Free Tibet report (Children of Despair) claims that the Chinese operate "a genocidal birth control policy" in virtually the whole of Tibet. The 1994 TIN survey argues, however, that the evidence available is not conclusive and does not support the "very serious claim" of coercion. There are few first-hand accounts of forced abortions and sterilisations from women, and so far the extent to which violence, if any, was used in these birth control "blitzes" remains unknown. While the Chinese Government does appear to pressure both Tibetan and Chinese women to have abortions and sterilisations it is not clear to what extent local authorities act on directives from Beijing, or whether certain authorities create their own population policies.

Fines and Punishment

The birth control regulations imposed on Tibetans not only affect parents but the children themselves. Aside from complex regulations which control how many children Tibetans can have, there are a series of fines and punishments for couples who break the rules and have an unauthorised child.

Ordinary Tibetans are allowed two children, employees of the state only one. In China's White Paper on Tibet, fines and punishments for urban Tibetans who exceeded the birth control quota were extended to all Tibetan residents of towns, whether or not they were government employees. In the May 1992 TAR Birth Control Regulations, an urban Tibetan couple who have an unauthorised child are fined at least 500 yuan - about three months income for a government employee, or a year's income for a farmer. The fine is 300 yuan if one of the couple does not have a "stable profession". Neither of the couple are then eligible for promotion, wage rises or bonuses for two years. The fine for a second illegal Tibetan child is 1,000 yuan for an employed couple, or 600 yuan for couples with no "stable profession". Families outside the state system who exceed the two-child threshold have to pay heavily. Fines can be as high as 8,000 yuan, about 10 or 15 times the average rural income, for an unauthorised child (1994 TlN Survey; pp.19-20).

Under the regulations, children can be denied residence, food rations and, in some circumstances, are ineligible for school. Tashi Drolma, a doctor who worked in Amdo, explained that when her mother's cousin, a nomad who already had the statutory two children, had a third child, the penalty did not stop at a huge fine. "When he [the child] is six, he will be barred from receiving an education and will not be given a food ration card. The family will have to share their own rations with him, and in addition pay 500 yuan a year as a penalty tax" (Craig; p.245).

Tibetans do get a better deal than the Chinese. The Chinese working and living in Tibet are normally allowed only one child. The fines are also much higher - 3,000 yuan for the first unauthorised child, 5,000 yuan for the second. Administrative punishments such as bans on promotion and cuts in salary are also- greater, and there is compulsory sterilisation. However, the gap may not be as large as it first appears. Chinese employees in Tibet earn more than Tibetans because of government subsidies. There are also reports that suggest the Chinese have greater access to officials who can be encouraged to interpret favourably the complex rules (1994 TlN Survey; pp.19-20).

Ideology of Birth Control: Eugenics

Underpinning China's birth control policy is an ideological conviction that national minorities are "racially inferior". Since 1988 its controversial eugenics plan to raise 'population quality' has been particularly directed at national minorities, which includes the Tibetans. The presentation of the Draft National Law on Eugenics in December 1993, combined with the unsubstantiated announcement of high numbers of mentally defective Tibetans, indicates China's strong intention to apply eugenic controls on Tibetans in the future. It is also likely that there will be more and more limits on the number of children. In a ministerial statement the minorities were identified as one of the groups responsible for the "inferior quality births" which China aims to stop. This new law, if implemented, is likely to lead to stricter and possibly more discriminatory birth control regulations in Tibet (1994 TIN Survey; pp.3-4).

All attempts to discuss Tibet are bedevilled by the Chinese redefinition of the country's borders since 1949. Here the term Tibet is used to refer to the three original provinces of U'Tsang, Kham and Amdo (sometimes called Greater Tibet). When the Chinese refer to Tibet they invariably mean the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) which includes only one province, U'Tsang (the TAR was formally inaugurated in 1965).

For further information on the Tibetan Womens movement and the situation in Tibet for women.

This information was compiled by Tibet Support Group, UK 9 Islington Green London N1 2XH England.
Additional material was added by the Australia Tibet Council PO Box 1236 Potts Point NSW 2011 Australia.
For more information contact your local Tibet support group. (February 1996)

Return to the Index of Tibet Fact Sheets