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?
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.
Residents nearby also could testify to coercion in the county's program. Family-planning officers ordered a woman, four and-a-half months pregnant with her second child, to report for an abortion. She refused, she told the investigators. "I went into hiding in my mother's village," she said. "They arrested three people in my mother's family but didn't destroy any homes. They arrested six people in my mother-in-law's family and destroyed three homes."
Her family members had to pay fines in order to be released. She kept her baby, who is now 1 year old, but will have to pay three years' salary in order to register the child with the state so that he can attend school, receive medical care, and other necessities. Others also said the police destroyed homes when abortion orders went unheeded. One man living in the "model village" near the family-planning office pointed out holes in his walls that required 40 bags of cement to repair after police used jackhammers on his home and the home of his daughter-in-law, who had fled to escape abortion orders.
These findings are significant because Sihui is one of the counties the UN Population Fund certified to Congress in a written statement in August 2001. It said family-planning programs in those counties are "fully voluntary" and "women are free to voluntarily select the timing and spacing of their pregnancies." (The coercion-free designation conformed to a Clinton-era interpretation of the same law Mr. Bush may use to deny funds. Under Mr. Clinton, the agency could use U.S. funds for China as long as they did not go directly to programs involving coercion. So the UN agency developed a habit of designating "model" counties where population controls no longer met their interpretation of the "coercive" definition. Mr. Clinton OK'd funds for the UN agency using that interpretation seven of his eight years as president.)
The UN projects in China have been under steady pressure since the United States in 1984 first dropped funding. But reports of the Beijing government's forcibly limiting China's population have not declined during that time. Quotas announced in Beijing (the latest: 1.6 billion people nationwide by 2050) are carried out punitively at the local level. "The Chinese program remains highly coercive not because of local deviations from central policies but as a direct, inevitable, and intentional consequence of those polices," said Steve Mosher, who directs the Population Research Institute and began studying China's population-control plans as a student there in 1979.
Women who would like to have a second child must obtain a birth permit from the government. Permits usually require paying a tax equal to one year's wages, and they are not always granted even then. Women who become pregnant beyond those parameters are subject to fines and jail sentences. They and their family members may lose their jobs or homes.
The communist regime has family-planning offices in each county. Birth planners are stationed in factories and most large businesses. Family-planning bureaucrats like to swath blank wall space at street corners with slogans like "Family planning is your security!" All of this helps most Chinese accept the restrictions, now well into a second generation, as routine.
But the reality of mandatory sterilization, enforced birth control, and coerced abortion is grim: a rigorous policy that makes brothers and sisters illegal.
Between 1989 and 1999, according to China's official public-health records, the state performed 85.5 million abortions. During the same time, the records report 45 million tubal ligations (sterilization) on women.
Supporters of the UN Population Fund had to play defense after a House congressional committee summoned Population Research Institute investigator Ms. Guy and director Mr. Mosher to testify in October. Nafis Sadik, director of the UN Population Fund, and other officers were invited but refused to testify at the hearing. Instead, realizing it was under pressure to keep its U.S. funds, the agency sent its own delegation to China, headed by a former Dutch ambassador to the UN, Nicholas Biegman. The delegation met with Chinese government officials in Beijing and Guangzhou before visiting the family-planning work in Sihui and in the city of Qianjiang in Hubei Province.
But these visits took place under the constant presence of Chinese government officials. Out of a five-day tour, the group spent two full days in Beijing in meetings. The group's findings: "No one expressed any grievances or complaints of any kind, or knew of any abuses in recent years.... None seemed to know of any forced abortions." The team's report also noted that "Chinese officials pledged their commitment to international human-rights standards" and said the UN Population Fund "provided an essential example of coercion-free family planning."
Out of the limelight, population-control forces worked to undermine the findings of the independent investigation. They confirmed the desk situated near government family-planning officials was theirs, but that did not mean the agency had an actual "office" in Sihui. But even that denial has a downside for population-control advocates: having no office in the area seriously undermines their claims to monitor family-planning activities in the "model" county.
Rob Gustafson of the UN Population Fund contacted Mr. Mosher to request the names and addresses of the women interviewed on video and audiotapes during the investigation. Mr. Mosher refused to release the names of those interviewed or members of the investigative team other than Ms. Guy. He believes they could be arrested by Chinese police. "[Our investigators] spoke to Chinese women in private. We protected their identity. Which approach is more likely to produce accurate testimony?" he wondered.
The criticism intensified last week after Mr. Bush slapped a hold on the money. A press statement from Peter Purdy, president of the U.S. Committee for the UN Population Fund, said "the so-called Population Research Institute" findings are "simply not true, and are, in fact, scurrilous lies." Mr. Purdy wrote to Mr. Bush: "Are there human-rights abuses in China? Absolutely. Does the UN Population Fund have anything to do with them? Absolutely not."
Whether the independent investigation went far enough, it is reportedly giving the president second thoughts about the UN Population Fund. New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith, who heads the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus and is vice-chairman of the House Committee on International Relations, urged the president in a Dec. 21 letter to put "an immediate hold" on the funds and launch a fuller investigation. "By their words and actions, the UNFPA has chosen to partner with those who oppress women," he wrote. The UN ties to China's family-planning bureaucracy make it "a willing 'enabler' of massive human-rights violations."
American pro-lifers are no longer the only ones looking askance at the UN Population Fund. Perhaps more significantly, the scandal in Sihui caught the attention of British lawmakers, who give three times more to the UN Population Fund than the United States.
A handful of lawmakers in both the House of Lords and House of Commons pushed an amendment to the government's annual international development bill, which would restrict British funding of coercive population-control programs. During debate the parliamentarians invited Mr. Mosher to Westminster to discuss his group's findings in Sihui County. Afterward, Timothy John Leigh of the House of Lords told his peers enough evidence exists "to suggest that there is at least a real possibility that bodies to which we, British taxpayers, give money are in some way complicit in, or have an influence on, a barbaric program of coercive population control. However, we continue to fund them."
The amendment lost to opposition from Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labor Party government. Both Labor and Liberal Democrats long have supported overseas family-planning programs, including abortion. The parties impose those views on members, forcing them to vote on party lines. Conservatives, meanwhile, are more likely to oppose funds for population control. But the party has treated it as an ethical issue best left to individual consciences, discouraging the kind of party discipline found among the majority.
Debate over the amendment was heated enough to prompt a British investigation of China programs. A tour by members of Parliament, including Mr. Blair's International Development secretary, Clare Short, is tentatively set for March. Judging by recent experience in Sihui County, what kind of tour (and tour guides) they choose will make all the difference in what they learn.