09/21/2013, 00.00
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Reggie Littlejohn: The One-Child Law, the Party’s tool to stay in power

by Giulia Mazza
The American activist founder of Women 's Rights Without Frontiers, tells AsiaNews the story of how her battle against China’s family planning policies begun, her ongoing fight to stop forced abortions and forced sterilizations . Because of birth control, Littlejohn explains, "the Chinese local system is in danger of collapse ."

Rome (AsiaNews) - "There is no logical reason to maintain the one-child law other than the fact it is a means for the Communist Party to control the Chinese population, establishing a culture of terror", says Reggie Littlejohn, an American lawyer who has been fighting against forced abortions and forced sterilizations in China , the result of the family planning policy imposed by the government. Speaking to AsiaNews on the occasion of the 10th International Conference on Maternal Health Care (Rome , 18-22 September) the founder of Women's Rights Without Frontiers, revealed why she decided to commit herself to fighting against the horrors of the one-child law . An encounter with some Chinese refugees who fled to the U.S. to seek asylum and the fight against a serious illness gave rise to her commitment " for all those people who were worse off than me, the women who are victims of forced abortions and forced sterilizations , or persons persecuted for their faith. " Today she is sponsoring the campaign " Save a girl"  and she is touring the world with the documentary " It's a girl!", Where the victims of sex-selective abortions - in India and China - tell their stories . Below is the AsiaNews interview with Reggie Littlejohn.

What led you to concern yourself with the one-child law? What is your story?

I am a lawyer, I graduated from Yale and for about eight years I dealt with fiscal and business law in San Francisco. At that time I represented some Chinese refugees pro bono in their requests for political asylum in the United States. The first was a woman who had been persecuted because she was Christian and forcibly sterilized. She was emaciated, about 1.50 m high more or less. She had already had two children and the authorities pressured her to have sterilization. They knocked on her door every day and every time she refused, because many women of her village had serious health problems from the sterilizations they suffered. She resisted until they took her by force and dragged away from her home, literally. They threw her on a table, opened her abdomen and tied her tubes, without anesthesia. She told me that the pain was unimaginable. That sterilization has caused extensive infection, which left her with migraines and chronic pain in the back and abdomen. I remember sitting at my desk in my beautiful office in San Francisco , surrounded by civilization and freedom , and I thought : " I can not believe that such things really still happen today, to a fifth of the world's female population ." Because one in five women in China are forced to have abortions or be sterilized .

Later I followed two other cases of women victims of the one-child law . Then I got sick . In 2003 I underwent a bilateral mastectomy , but the operation has had some complications and I developed a MRSA staph infection resistant to antibiotics. For more than 10 weeks I underwent other very aggressive operations and antibiotic treatments. I did not know if I would survive or not, and I began to pray for all those people who were worse off than me , such as women who are victims of forced abortions and forced sterilizations , or persons persecuted for their faith .

When I recovered I started writing a script, then that became the film Pearls of China, where I talk about the plight of these women. And I founded Women's Rights Without Frontiers. Many people know that there is a one-child policy in China , but do not know that to implement it the government forces women to have abortions and be sterilized. I felt I needed to make this reality knownand that's how I started to deal with this . Women's Rights Without Frontiers seeks to unite the pro-choice and pro-life movements against forced abortions . It is something that everyone should be in agreement on, because forced abortions are not a choice and no one can argue in favour of female sex-selective abortions . Every organization that deals with women's reproductive rights should oppose forced abortion and forced sterilization of women . Any organization that deals with women's reproductive health must oppose forced sterilizations , because they not only destroy the reproductive system of women, but endanger her health as a whole.

Why does China does not eliminate the one-child policy ?

There are no logical reasons to keep the one-child law. Firstly, because this policy has reduced the available labor force , and the country is already losing a lot of business , in favor of other countries that have a workforce that is more numerous and affordable. Secondly, to what I call "China senior tsunami". The law has given a blow to the reproductive rate: after the boom of the Mao era - where women had on average 5.9 children - Today the average is 1.7 per head. But the children of the boomers are getting older and retiring, and there are not enough young people who can take care of them, nor a social security programs. It's like watching a demographic disaster in slow motion. Finally, there is a problem of gender imbalance. Today in China there are 37 million more men than women and this destabilizes societies: it generates human trafficking, inside and outside the country, it promotes crime, many women are kidnapped and sold as wives. Unlike men, women can improve their status by marrying men of higher social level . This has created the so-called "villages of bachelors" , where there are only men. They are very remote areas and these people are called "bare branches" because will never bring their family tree back to life.

This does not make sense , but I doubt that the one-child policy will be abandoned in the short term, because it allows the Communist Party to remain firm in its place, for several reasons. First of all, this law affects all citizens through forced abortions and forced sterilizations, thus the Party shall ensure his authority and asserts its power . A power that departs from Beijing , radiates throughout the country and gives them the power to declare life or death over everyone. This creates a culture of fear, which allows the Party to control the population through terrorism . The same family planning officials act like terrorists : they can do anything, even kill those who oppose them, without suffering any repercussions .

Then there is a system of paid informants: a woman may be denounced by neighbors , colleagues, friends . This undermines human relationships : if you do not know who you can believe, because anyone could sabotage your pregnancy, how can you establish a democracy ? Moreover, the implementation of the one child law involves millions of people: those structures of coercion should be maintained because they are a great vehicle for the money. Each year, the party earns billions of dollars thanks to that people who pay fines for violating the one-child law. It is a social control masquerading as population control.

How does the campaign "Save a girl" work and how does it tie into the documentary "It's a girl!"?

In China we have an underground network of activists working in the field who are able to identify women who are tested for the determination of their child's sex, who do not want to have a girl, and are going to have an abortion , or have already had a child and have decided to abandon it. When we find them, we tell them not to abort and not to abandon these little creatures just because they are females. We offer them a monthly salary for a year in which the child grows. In 90% of cases, these women decide to keep their daughters. The most vulnerable time for a child is between the fifth month of pregnancy - when you can determine if it is a male or a female - to three to four months of life, because it is when it starts to develop his or her personality, to smile, to interact more. If you are unable to intervene in that period of time, we can save the life of a child. This is dealt with by the campaign.

Women's Rights Without Frontiers is also supporting women fleeing forced abortions, women so poor that their children are at risk, children of persecuted dissidents. We also take care of the "forsaken children": Sometimes when a couple divorces and remarries, they abandon the children of the first marriage, whether they are male or female. Although these children are victims of the one-child law , which prohibits children in the second marriage if you've already had one in the first.

The film It's a girl! is associated with a campaign of action. The goal is not only to document a problem, but also engage people and push them to do something. In China, the country linked to the documentary is our Save a girl.

Why do India and China, two radically different countries, have selective abortions and female infanticide in common?

India and China are very very different, but in the whole of Asia there is a preference for the male child. In the case of India and China, there it is said that raising a daughter is like watering the someone else's garden. A girl is deemed unnecessary for several reasons. First, it is the male who performs the funeral rites for the family, so you need a child when you die. However, [for a boy ] it is even more important in a double perspective . According to tradition, in both countries with marriage the woman becomes part of her husband's family . The groom's parents earn a daughter in law and the new couple's parents will support him throughout their lives. On the contrary, the bride's family loose a daughter.

In China's case , with the one-child law, if you have only one child and that child is a girl - many couples feel divided between a selective abortion or facing poverty when they are older . In India's case there is an additional factor: the dowry . When a woman discovers she is pregnant with a boy , she knows that when he gets married, the family will end up with a pile of money from the family of his future wife . When a woman is pregnant with a girl, she knows that in order to marry her daughter will have to give a lot of money to the groom's family. So in India there is a strong economic incentive not to have a female child. But in China, not being able to have more than one child is an even more powerful force. And in the countryside it is even worse: there it is possible to have two children if the first is a girl. But according to demographic analysis, it's when couples try to have another child that most selective abortions take place. Because they know that the second is their last chance to have a male.



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