A State-Owned Womb

Violations of Tibetan Women's Reproductive Rights

A Report by
The Tibetan Women's Association, Central Executive Committee, Dharamsala

Women have the right to both reproductive choice and adequate health care. In occupied Tibet the Chinese government violates these fundamental women's rights.

The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was adopted at the 1979 United Nations Convention on the Status of Women. CEDAW specifies that women need and have the right to:

  • Access to adequate health care facilities including information,counselling and services in family planning.
  • Freedom and responsibility to decide the number and age difference of children to be had.

  • The Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies For the Advancement of Women (NFLSAW) passed by the third United Nations World Conference on Women in 1985 specifies that:

  • All governments should ensure that fertility control methods and drugs conform to adequate standards of quality, efficiency and safety.
  • All couples and individuals have the basic human right to decide freely the number and spacing of their children.

  • Although China agreed to adopt these UN policies, the birth control methods and policies currently enforced by the Chinese in Tibet flagrantly abuse this agreement, denying Tibetan women both rights to reproductive choice and adequate health care.

    Since 1982 the Chinese government's control of Tibetan women's bodies has increased at an alarming rate.

    China initiated its birth-control policy in Tibet in 1982 by imposing abortions or exorbitant fines on women "becoming pregnant without permission", or having more children than regional quotas allowed. Fines were also imposed for not complying with the stipulated three year gap between births. Tibetans were at no stage made aware of these "punishments". Instead confusing and ambiguous guidelines were issued which imply but never state, that a birth without permission is a punishable offence.

    In October 1994 the severe Mother and Child Health Law was adopted by the National People's Congress - to take effect from June 1995. Under this law, Chinese officials reserve the right to prevent marriages and births based on what they determine as the mental and physical health of the parents. This law states that people suffering from mental and contagious diseases will have to defer their marriages when the diseases are serious and likely to affect others. Those who still elect to marry must comply with lifelong contraceptive measures or undergo ligation. This would include the children of political prisoners interred in psychiatric hospitals that could be subject to sterilisation due to family history of mental or physical illnesses, that may be hereditary. It also stipulates that foetuses carrying hereditary diseases and are seriously abnormal should be terminated, and women who have given birth to seriously defective infants will be subject to medical examinations to determine whether they will be granted permission to conceive again. At no point in the legislation does it consider the rights, beliefs or needs of the mother. Decisions about the women's reproductive future is made by a governing body of medical staff and not with the consultation of women or families. The implementation of this law represents an increasing pattern of eugenic intentions denying Tibetan women their fundamental reproductive freedoms.

    This legislation has particular implications for Tibetan women:

    The autonomous region's...municipal government should formulate rules for the implementation of the premarital medical check-up system in the light of their respective actual conditions.

    While being subjected to existing rigid conditions of government health control, Tibetan women must face the added component of a regional governing body given free reign with regard to designing the rules and regulations specific to them.

    China's methods of Birth Control

    The primary methods of birth control employed in Tibet are surgical: abortion and sterilisation (although infanticide is widely practised as well). Contrary to CEDAW as well as other UN documents, Chinese authorities make no attempt to educate Tibetan women regarding alternative and less drastic methods of contraception, and in fact no evidence exists that the Chinese have attempted any form of population control other than surgical procedure. In addition, poor facilities and low medical standards make contraceptive methods such as the IUD (also known as "the coil") dangerous and ineffective, and use of this device frequently results in infection.

    In China it is legal to inject women up to nine months pregnant to induce abortion and if the baby is "delivered alive, the foetus is also injected so it will die". A mother will often hear her baby cry once and will then be told the infant is dead.

    While abortions are the widest form of contraception employed in Tibet, they are often conducted without proper equipment or anaesthetic in unhygenic conditions and the medical complications which follow are immense, sometimes resulting in death. Even official planned birth documents acknowledge the risk of serious mishap or medical malpractice.

    In the Mother and Child Health Law it states that:

    Whoever intentionally or negligently injures another and causes serious injury is to be sentenced (for...criminal detention)

    However little evidence exists that such measures are taken against the perpetrators of negligent medical practice, particularly when it comes to women and reproductive surgery.

    China's Enforcement of Birth Control

    Tibetan women have been forced to have abortions and sterilsations simply because Chinese government regulations make it impossible for them to seek alternatives. Family planning is minimal if not non-existent, information on contraception is rarely made available and authorities present sterilisation and abortion as the only solutions to unwanted and unplanned pregnancies. Women are often given the "option" to pay an enormous fine or to terminate the pregnancy. The fine usually constitutes the equivalent of five years' annual income (7000 Yuan) which leaves them no financial choice. As the economic position of Tibetans is low and the generally lack the contacts with Chinese officials necessary to equivocate restrictions, they are more likely to succumb to the pressures of control.

    The Tibet Information Network (TIN - an independent human rights agency based in London) states that:

    The threshold at which controls are applied are lower for Chinese than Tibetans, but in effect once applied, it seems from these accounts harder for Tibetan women to avoid the demands. Thus birth control policy seems..to be discriminatory and applied in a way that constitutes force among Tibetans more than Chinese.

    An official Chinese document revealed to the Tibetan Government in-exile in February 1995, orders force to be used in implementing the birth control policies in the Eastern Tibetan region of Amdo. The document insists that "birth prevention operations" (either sterilisations or insertions of the IUD) be instated immediately in order to suppress the reproduction of the Tibetan population.

    There is also evidence that coercion is sometimes used by the Chinese to enforce birth control policies. Local officials and doctors have quotas that they must fulfil and are rewarded monetarily if these are met - similarly they are punished if they fail. Even women who are permitted to have another child are sometimes tricked or forced into "birth control operations" to enable these quotas to be met.

    The policies and methods implemented by China in Tibet differ from region to region but all the policies regulate:

  • Number of children parents are allowed to have (varying from one to three);
  • Time period between children;
  • Permissible age of the mother.

  • The regulations vary depending on factors which differ considerably and are not well defined; for example in some regions cadres may have only one child whereas farmers are permitted two.

    Chinese Methods of Forced Birth Control

    Methods of Physical Coercion:

  • Forced or voluntary
  • Compulsory for couples with hereditary diseases
  • Compulsory for unregistered couples or those without birth permits
    issued by Chinese authorities
    Conducted without consent and often performed when women enter
    hospital for other surgery or medicalprocedure.
  • Immediately following birth.

  • Economic Penalties:

    The economic well-being of Tibetan families is seriously endangered by the economic penalties imposed by the Chinese for breaching regulations. The following penalties effectively violate a Tibetan woman's right to reproductive choice:

  • Heavy Fines
  • Loss of Jobs
  • Demotion or Disqualification from potential promotion
  • Cuts in Salary

    Furthermore, a Tibetan child born outside of Chinese regulations will be denied legal papers as well as the right to attend school, own property, travel, participate in organised work or obtain a ration card (which is necessary to receive the monthly allotment of Tibetan dietary staples at government stores).

    Chinese birth control policies serve not only as a means of controlling Tibetan women's bodies but represent a greater pillar of China's colonial policies designed to reduce Tibetans to a minority in their own country.

    International human rights organisations remain the only actors able to rally against China's onslaught against Tibetans as a distinct cultural group.

    The Tibetan Women's Association appeals to international bodies and especially to women's groups to join together in support of Tibetan women's reproductive freedoms.


    ELIMINATE coercive practices and encourage voluntary approaches to family planning.

    2. EDUCATE Tibetan women about family planning so that they make informed choices.

    3. EMPLOY the use of alternative safe and effective contraception.

    4. INSTITUTE family planning programmes which address birth control, maternal and child health and the status of women.

    5. DEMAND that the PRC fully implement the provisions of CEDAW.

    6. DEMAND an investigation into coercive birth control policies in Tibet by a United nations Commission or other internationally recognised human rights monitors.

    For further information on Birth Control Policies in Tibet, please read the following:

  • Tears of Silence: Tibetan Women and Population Control, A TWA Report 1994

  • Children of Despair: An Analysis of Coercive Birth Control Policies in Chinese
    Occupied Tibet, Compiled by Campaign Free Tibet, August 1992, UK.

  • Documents on Birth Control, March 1994 - Tibet Information Network, London:
  • Survey of Birth Control Policies in Tibet, March 30 1994
    - Tibet Information Network, London:

    Suppression of Religious Freedom in Tibet
    A Report by the Tibetan Womens Association, Central Executive Committee Dharamsala

    Tibetan Womens Struggle for the Right to Religious Practice and Expression

    The right to religious expression is a freedom that is recognized by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights which asserts:

    The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion...the right to freedom of opinion, expression and pecaeful assembly [Articles 18,19,20]

    Chinese law also claims to guarantee the right to religious activity and in Article 88 of the Constitution of the Peoples Repubic of China (PRC) states:

    The Peoples State holds that the question of relkigious belief is a private matter; belief or non-belief in religion relates to personal freedom of an individual.

    However the continued violence in reaction to religious activity in Chinese occupied Tibet invalidates both of these declarations. Contrary to the tenets of their law, the Chinese have imposed numerous restrictions on the p[ractices of Tibetan Buddhism to the point of open aggression against Tibetan religious customs. Rather than being opposed to Buddhism itself, thyis hostility stems from a fear of a nationlaist unity because for Tibetans, Busshism is not merely a system of religion but part of their nationalk and cultural identity. Chinese government officials view religion as poison and thus a threat to their rule in Tibet. The rich cultuyral hertiage that Buddhism represents threatens to undermine the very platform on which the Chinese have fabricated the Tibetan historical experience.

    The Chinese State make the distinction between religious belief and religious activity and this is where the inconsistencies begin. While their considtutition claims that citizens of the pRC enjoy freedom of religious belief [Article 36] it then goes on to decalre that no-one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state. This translates effectively into severe restrictions and curtailments of the right of Tibetans to undertake serious religiousm practice. For Tibetans looking to His Holiness the Dalai Lama as their spiritual leader, Buddhism has become a living symbol of Tibetan nationalism and thus in the eyes of Chinese authorities disruptive and controversial.

    In June 1994 at a meeting in Lhasa of TAR (Tibet Autonomous Region) Communist Party government officials, the following was read:

    Communists are complete atheists...the Communist world outlook is basically opposed to the religious world outlook...Religion is most likely to be used by enemies of the people to undermine socialist construction and the development of various nationalities in the mother country...Since religion is harmful...party members of national minorotities should denounce religion for the good of the socialist mother country.

    Since the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) entered Tibet in 1949, over 6000 religious institutions have been destroyed as a result of the PLAs attempt to reunite Tibet with the Motherland. Although some of the monasteries have been rebuilt and the monks and nuns permitted to practice Buddhism, the right to religious freedom has been severely confined.

    Increase of Religious Control

    In an official document released in 1992, China acknowledged imposing limitations on the number of monks and nuns allowed in each monastery. The document states that since 1989 there were basically no new admissions in the monasteries in the whole Tibet Autonomous Region, and that this fixed ceiling on admissions was imposed by the Chinese authorities and not by the monasteries themselves.

    The Chinese entirely control who may or may not become a nun or monk and expel many for political activities. Nuns and monks are placed under constant surveillance and workteams are dispatched to investigate dissdent and to deliver political education on Marxist ideologies. Government appointed monks and nuns form Democratic Management Committees that oversee the implementation of the governments religious and political policies, and operate as the monastic eyes and ears of the security police.

    The Chinese choose who will teach and what will be taught. They control what religious ceremonies can/will be performed and where. Political education sessions are lengthy and constitute a major intrusion on the nuns and monks study of Buddhist texts. Furthermore, the traditional practice of monks and nuns reading scriptures in Tibetan homes has been abolished and permission must be sought before certain teachings may be given. In October 1994 a Tibet Information Network source (TIN - an independent human rights organization based in London) revealed that it had become an offense for an Tibetan to place a picture of the Dalai Lama on an altar - even in the privacy of their own home; a direct violation of the Chinese consitution that declares religion to be a private matter.

    Thus government and CCP policy and infrastructure forms an intrivate apparatus of control and serves as a crippling constraint on Tibetans freedom of religious expression.

    China claims to have oput significant funds into rebuilding insititions that it destroyed. However figures remain unsubstantiated and excessively high, as are their estimates of practicing monks and nuns. The Chinese prohibit

    This WWW is maintained and updated by The Office of Tibet, the official agency of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in London. This Web page may be linked to any other Web sites. Contents may not be altered.

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    Last updated: 2-Feb-96