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Violation of Tibetan Women’s Reproductive System

China’s Violation of Tibetan Women’s Reproductive System

Since the occupation of Tibet by Chinese military forces in 1959, Tibetan women have suffered oppression, exploitation, subjugation and discrimination.

As Tibetans, they are victims of occupation, arbitrary arrest, torture, violation of freedom of speech and assembly, restrictions on freedom of religion, and on freedom of travel. As women they are subjected to forced birth control, abortions and sterilisation against their wishes or without informed consent.

Tibetans are devout Buddhists who hold reverence for all life forms and especially so for human life which is believed to be very precious. This is because of their belief that to be born a human being is to get a chance to attain enlightenment. To practice abortion is to deprive a human being of that opportunity and to submit to sterilisation is to prevent a person who deserves to be born from being so born. Therefore, the act of performing abortions and sterilisation is considered sinful and particularly offensive to Tibetan women, since the killing of a living being is a sin. The forced implementation of birth control and abortion not only deprives Tibetan women of their reproductive rights but this policy is a serious Infringement of their religious rights as well.

Reproductive rights embrace certain human rights that are already recognised in international laws, international human rights documents and other relevant United Nations consensus documents. These rights rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. They also include the right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence.

One such convention is the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, known as “CEDAW”, which China has ratified and came into force in 1981.

Under Article 16 of CEDAW, China undertakes to carry out "all suitable measures for the abolition of discrimination against women in family matters", especially "the right to free and responsible decision about the number and age difference in children to be had."

Despite the ratification of CEDAW and six other UN human rights instruments, and agreement to the adoption of the Nairobi Resolutions by the UN, China continues to violate aspects of these accords on the grounds of sovereign rights.

In June 1995 China implemented a national law known as “The Maternal and Infant Health Care Law”. This legislation gives the government the right to control marriages and births according to their perception of the health of the parents and infant, in order to avoid "breeding" of inferior quality. The law specifically mentions the use of sterilisation, abortion and bans on marriage to prevent people from passing on mental disabilities and disease to their children.

Methods of birth control available to Tibetan women are primarily surgical: abortion and sterilisation. Access to painless methods of preventing pregnancy and birth are almost unheard of, minimally discussed in official propaganda and largely absent from family planning legislation and policy directives. Although there is stated access to other methods of contraception (including “the pill”, intra-uterine devices, and condoms) the language of birth control policy documents clearly indicates that abortion and sterilisation are the main methods through which the policy is implemented.

Tibetan women forced to undergo abortion and/or sterilisation are given reasons that they are too young or too old to have children, too poor or unemployed, unmarried or unfit.

While birth control units in Chinese hospitals implement birth control policies for Tibetans living by a hospital, mobile birth control teams carry out birth control regulations for Tibetans living in rural villages and nomadic areas. Both teams have a monetary incentive to perform abortions and sterilisation on as many women as possible. The more names the doctors collect, the more money they get from their government, and from the women who are charged for the operation.

Abortion appears to be the major form of birth control in Tibet. The authorities, however, have a preference for the "combined method" a term that is believed to mean combining abortion with sterilisation.

In China, it is legal to inject a woman who is nine months pregnant to induce abortion, and to kill infants in the birth canal with a lethal injection.

While working as a nurse at the Lhasa People's Hospital, Chimi noted women "nine months pregnant are injected in the abdomen to induce abortion. If delivered alive, the foetus is also injected so it will die."

In some parts of Tibet it was been reported that abortions have been carried out by inserting a small electric device into the womb through the vagina to mince up the foetus. Following this, the women are given a pill so that the foetus can be taken out in bits. The Chinese authorities do not talk publicly about this method of abortion.

Under Chinese law infanticide is considered a form of abortion and is a commonly reported practice. Many women have reported giving birth to healthy children only to have the hospital staff inform them their babies are stillborn. The mothers have reported hearing their child's first cries before it is taken away, injected and killed. This is often done when women seek medical assistance for the birth at a public hospital but do not have the requisite birth document. In many instances the woman is also sterilised without her knowledge or consent.

Although abortion is the most frequent form of birth prevention in Tibet, the official literature and current regulations imply a preference for the much surer solution of sterilisation.

In 1990, the local radio station in Qinghai announced that "over 87,000 women had been sterilised, about ten percent of women of child-bearing age."

It was unclear whether these operations had been voluntary, but the same broadcast announced, "effective and forceful measures have also been adopted to strengthen family planning work."

According to the Civil Affairs Department of Shigatse, in July 1990 a team from Shigatse Child and Maternity Hospital visited ten districts to propagate family planning, resulting in the sterilisation of 1,092 women out of 2,419.

Mrs. Lhankar, a 37-year-old Tibetan woman born in eastern Tibet states that, “In 1988 the Chinese took me by force and sterilised me. Along with me, nearly thirty other women were sterilised at the same time. I can say that seventy percent of the women, aged eighteen and above, in my village have been sterilised. They [the Chinese] treat us like animals and use crude methods. My sister-in-law was aborted before her husband's eyes. She was four months into pregnancy when they took her to the clinic by force. They bound her hands and legs. A doctor, wearing gloves, put his hand into her vagina and seemed to squeeze the foetus. She became delirious and bled profusely. Many other pregnant women, some at seven months, were given injections in the stomach. They wailed in agony and delivered dead foetuses. While operating, medical staff often made incisions without anaesthesia and with little consideration for the pain that was being inflicted. I have witnessed these terrible things with my own eyes."

There is considerable evidence to suggest that coercion is used to enforce birth control policies in Tibetan and such reports helped provoke a cut-off of financial support from the United States for Chinese family planning programs in the 1980's.

The use of economic sanctions and rewards to enforce policy is clearly stated in birth control policy regulations. In Chapter Four of the Tibetan Autonomous Region 1992 regulations, dealing with Rewards and Good Treatments, Article 25 states, that women workers from State offices, industries and work units who practice late marriage and late births, and who have single child certificates, will be given the benefit of longer maternity leave.

Statements from Tibetan women concur that a very considerable element of coercion is applied to women, particularly in villages, through the mechanism of fines and administrative sanctions. Particularly where the women are poor, these threats of fines constitute effective force. The women say that they had no option but to agree to undergo an abortion or a sterilisation operation.


With the implementation of birth control policies in Tibet, plus massive Chinese migration, the Tibetans have become a minority in their own country. It is estimated that between at least four and 20 percent of the population is no longer able to reproduce, with many thousands more subjected to other forms of contraception. If such polices continue it is likely that the rich Tibetan culture and heritage will succumb under the impact of a diminishing population, strict population control, and Chinese migration.

If you would like more information on Tibet or would like to join a local support group contact:

Auckland Thuten Kesang (National Chairperson), phone/fax (09) 483-7275, e-mail: thuten@kesang.ak.planet.co.nz
Auckland Neil Cameron e-mail: neil.cameron@orix.co.nz
Wellington Rick Sahar, phone (04) 384-4425, e-mail: ricksahar@clear.net.nz
Nelson Bob Bickerton, e-mail: mail@bickerton.co.nz
Christchurch Jonathan Collins, e-mail: jonathan@artbeat.co.nz
Dunedin Losang Dawa, phone (03) 455-7503, e-mail: losang.dawa@stonebow.otago.ac.nz

Heather McKay
PO Box 11-769
Manners Street
Wellington
New Zealand
Telephone: 00 64 4 916 3815
e-mail: heathertogether@yahoo.com

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