Cover Story

Volunteer...or else

Not wanting to lose government dollars but also not wanting to back away from the population-control agenda, a UN agency is trying to persuade President Bush that it supports China's one-child policy only when it's voluntary. But a private investigation casts serious doubt on that claim-and reveals UN depopulation workers sharing office space with China's abortion police

Issue: "Illegal siblings project," Feb. 2, 2002

Guangdong Province, Sihui County Government Building, Family Planning Office, Room 1. In this prosperous and heavily Westernized province 100 miles northwest of Hong Kong, six family-planning workers toil to enforce a policy, now more than 20 years old, limiting most Chinese families to one child.

Their routines include visits to the county medical clinic nearby and to private homes, along the way ordering IUD insertions or sterilizations for women who have already given birth, abortions for those who have exceeded the legal limit on pregnancies. In a nearby "model family-planning village," residents say they receive benefits if they abide by the government's quota system on children. If they do not, they are docked wages and their homes may be destroyed.

Does that sound like a "fully voluntary" family-planning program?

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It doesn't, apparently, to President George W. Bush. When the president last month signed into law the annual foreign-aid bill, he was careful to note that the legislation grants him sole discretion "to determine the appropriate level of funding for the United Nations Population Fund." As of today, what he deems the appropriate level is zero.

In effect, the $34 million Congress slated for the fund is frozen. The bill authorizes the president to eliminate family-planning aid money for any organization he determines "supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization."

That the president is willing to use this power shocked backers of the agency because Mr. Bush requested $21 million for the population fund in his original budget to Congress. Now he has stepped away from providing the full amount to the UN in part because of the revelations from Sihui County.

China's one-child policy is a public-relations problem for population controllers that threatens congressional and presidential support for their money. In an effort to keep government money flowing, UN Population Fund officials have labored to distance themselves from the China policy. So they've prepared a list of 32 counties-from among more than 2,000 in China-where they claim the policy is "fully voluntary."

One of those counties is Sihui.

Even after an independent investigation of the county's family-planning programs late last year revealed evidence of coercion, UN Population Fund proponents did not expect the president to exercise the power Congress gave him to freeze the funds.

Late into last week the Population Fund's advocates, and its director Thoraya Obaid, sought meetings with White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, key advisers to Mr. Bush on his funding decision. Meanwhile grassroots support raised by pro-life groups flooded White House operators with calls to zero out the UN Population Fund.

The president could ultimately release some portion of the funds. Meantime, family-planning bureaucrats are scrambling to explain why a UN Population Fund worker is sharing office space with China's abortion police in Sihui and what that says about the blur between the UN agency's "fully voluntary" programs and China's coercive one.

With abundant evidence that China still enforces a limit of one child per family, pro-life groups long argued that UN Population Fund projects could not exist in China without being subject to the communist regime's policy. Support for the claim was more logical inference than actual evidence.

Now they have at least circumstantial evidence to back them up.

Last September Virginia-based Population Research Institute (PRI) sent a team of professional investigators to Sihui County to discover the extent of overlap in the UN and the Chinese government programs. The investigators included trained investigator Josephine Guy, two translators, a photographer, and two China-based researchers. PRI did not identify those questioned in its probe in order to protect them from government reprisals.

When they arrived at Room 1, the county family-planning office inside a recently built but unadorned government building, workers pointed them to the desk of the UNFPA representative. She could not be contacted at the time because she was ill and hospitalized in Guangzhou, the workers said. At the government-run medical facility, less than a mile from the county family-planning office, locals testified to the kind of orders that go out from Room 1. Investigators met a young woman, accompanied by three friends, who was there under orders to have an abortion. "Would she like to keep her baby?" Ms. Guy asked the friends as the woman disappeared into the operating room. "Oh yes," they replied together, "but the law forbids it." The minimum age to marry is 23 and, at 19, family planners said she could not keep her baby. A doctor who spoke to the team said "voluntarism does not exist" in the county's family-planning program.

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