As the State Department raised concerns with China last month about its human-rights abuses-including the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, forced abortions, and censorship-for many in China it is an everyday reality.
Zhong Xuexiang, 39, of Guangzhou, China, is currently in the hospital with deteriorating health after a botched forced sterilization earlier this year. Government officials have ignored her requests for help, according to Zhong's cousin, who spoke to me from China.
Her case comes as the latest in a string of publicized cases revealing abuses under the one-child policy. Forced sterilizations are common in certain parts of China, as government officials are required to keep the number of births low. But Zhong's cousin said he had never heard of abuse like this.
In February, a group of more than 10 government officials, including the party secretary of Jiaolin Village, forcibly took Zhong to the local family-planning office at 5 a.m. Family-planning officials had been threatening to sterilize Zhong after she gave birth to her seventh child five years ago. (Two of her children are disabled.) But in previous examinations, the doctors found that Zhong's poor health made the operation extremely risky.
Still, the officials called in a doctor to sterilize the woman. The doctor again advised against sterilization, but the officials forced the doctor to perform the procedure. The doctors ended up accidentally cutting into her large intestines.
The officials then called for an ambulance to take her to a nearby hospital. But instead of treating it as an emergency, hours passed before medical personnel took Zhong into the operation room, at which time she was vomiting blood and had abdominal swelling. After the surgery the doctors told her that her situation had been critical and she was lucky to be alive.
Since then, Zhong's health has been failing, and she often goes in and out of hospitals. The family has tried contacting city officials for medical records (without which they have no legal proof of the abuse suffered by Zhong) and reimbursement for her medical bills, but the government has been unresponsive.
"Every time we call the city officials, they say we need to wait for the leader's approval, and now we don't know what to do," Zhong's cousin said in Chinese. "They've pushed it off for five months now." As a result, the government has only given her family 50 RMB ($7.84) for all their troubles.
Zhong's health condition worsened in June, and she is currently back in the hospital. She was admitted after she started coughing blood and could not walk. The government paid the hospital 3,000 RMB ($470.16) for the hospital stay, and her husband has had to borrow more money to pay for her care.
For now, Zhong can walk a little, but not far. She often feels dizzy and her sight goes dark. "She's not feeling very well, she has depression and anxiety. ... She worries a lot. She needs to take medicine for a long time, and will probably never be cured," her cousin said.
The family feels helpless-the government does nothing, TV stations won't report their situation, and they do not have money for a lawyer. Even if they could afford one, they do not know what a lawyer can do against the government.
"Her husband just wants justice and fairness," Zhong's cousin said. "The family is already struggling with children that need treatment, and adding on their mother's illness, they are going to have a breakdown."