Barckley Sumner warns of an increasingly common new form of eugenics
In a growing number of countries, coercive population strategies are increasing, with the support of the west. While these policies are usually presented as reasonable ways to tackle population growth, in many cases they involve forced sterilisation, sex-selective abortions and the unfair targeting of marginal communities not far short of ethnic cleansing. What's more our taxes, channelled from the Department for International Development to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), help to bankroll such policies.
China was the first country to resort to coercive population control, when it introduced its one child policy in 1979, the same year that the UNFPA began co-operating with the Beijing government. Though designed to be a temporary measure, the Chinese government have recently extended it, at least for the next five years. The policy has lead to human rights abuses and, predictably in a country which values male children more highly, a society where men now heavily outnumber women.
Last year, the US State Department expressed concern over the fact that UNFPA was still funding the policy, stating: "The United States understands that UNFPA does not approve of these policies. Nonetheless UNFPA's continuing support for the Chinese coercive birth-limitation program unfortunately provides a de facto UN seal of approval. UNFPA should insist that all coercion end in the country where it operates."
Some of the most brutal coercive population control methods in China occur in Xinjiang province, home to the Uyghur minority. Pregnancy can be declared 'illegal' and if discovered women can be forced to abort. If a family attempts to hide a woman known to be pregnant, their homes are destroyed. The restrictive policies include constant and invasive monitoring of the population. It is illegal for a pregnant woman to be executed, but in some cases pregnant women have been forced to have abortions and have then been executed.
The targeting of vulnerable minorities in population control programmes is not confined to China. In the late 1990s then Peruvian president, Alberto Fujimoro, introduced coercive population policies. Within a few years over 100,000 women had been forcibly sterilised, the vast majority of them indigenous peasant women living in remote areas. As reported by BBC's Newsnight, who interviewed some of these women, sterilisations tended to occur immediately after delivery, often when mothers were in no fit state to give informed consent. The UNFPA were criticised at the time for their involvement with the programmes. They denied the charges, saying they were unaware of the forced sterilisation, and accusing the pro-life group PRI of being behind the criticism. Undoubtedly the PRI have tried to agitate against the UNFPA because of their ideological opposition to birth control. But is the UNFPA as careful as it should be in investigating the kind of programmes they are supporting, and in publically denouncing those coercive policies that are happening?
Before and in the aftermath of the Kosovan war Slobodan Milosevic sought to force population control methods on the Kosvar's. Again, UNFPA were there. Nor could they claim ignorance of the Serb Government's intentions. In 1998 Rada Trajkovic, the minister for family concerns, said: "The state must find a way to limit or forbid the enormous birth rate in Kosovo."
In Mexico the Government has introduced a policy of reducing the population by 2015. This has inevitably led to forced sterilisations and the withdrawal of other medical services if men and women do not accept family planning methods. Once again these policies are principally targeted at the country's poorest communities. In Vietnam abortions often forced on women who become pregnant and already have the quota of two children.
Attention is now focussing on India, another arena of UNFPA operations, which within a decade is set to become the most populous nation on earth. Although abuses have up to now been less high profile, they are starting to emerge. The pressure to have male children is immense, female children are often viewed as an economic burden. Recent research has shown that for every 1,000 male children born there are just 614 live female births. The likelihood of females being aborted forced the Government to introduce a law in 1997 banning doctors from revealing the sex of a child. The law was strengthened in 2004 but the practice remains common, if covert. This March the first doctor was prosecuted under the law. He had revealed to an undercover agent that she was carrying a female foetus, and offered to 'take care of it' for her.
Given its somewhat dubious record, it is perhaps surprising that the British Government describes UNFPA as unequivocally 'a force for good'. Between 2000 and 2006 Britain funded UNFPA to the tune of £141 million. The issue of a rising population and its impact on resources is obviously of huge importance, and much of the work of the UNFPA is vital and morally unimpeachable. But it is in danger of acquiring a reputation as a front, and paymaster, for large scale human rights abuses. The alternative to forced population control is a more organic and longer process of education. This added to policies to reduce poverty and infant mortality rates will allow parents to limit their families by their own choosing, as occurred in the west following industrialisation.
There is nothing wrong with making family planning materials and abortion services freely available, as long as they are provided for those who wish to use them and not forced on those thought to be poor or feckless.
Currently the west is imposing de facto population quotas on the developing world. These will only help foment resentment and intolerance in the targeted communities. To try to resolve our problems by imposing fertility rules on others which we would never accept ourselves, is a flawed policy, at best hypocritical; at worst eugenicist.
Barckley Sumner is deputy editor of Tribune