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Religious Leaders and International Family Planning Community Address Human Rights Abuse in China’s Family Planning Program

December 20, 2004

Leaders of religious groups and reproductive rights and advocacy organizations send letter to President Hu Jintao asking for governmental review in case of Mao Hengfeng and to eliminate coercive measures in family planning.

WASHINGTON, DC— Today leaders from more than 40 major religious and family planning organizations from around the world submitted a letter to China’s President Hu Jintao to register concern about credible charges of human rights violations against Ms. Mao Hengfeng and to call for further efforts to eliminate coercive practices in China’s family planning programs. The letter was hand delivered to the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC, care of the ambassador, Mr. Yang Jiechi.

Both Amnesty International and Human Rights in China have reported the Ms. Mao is currently imprisoned in a “re-education through labor” camp in Shanghai, where her treatment does not meet international human rights standards, which forbid torture and cruel and unusual punishment. Ms. Mao was forced to have an abortion and dismissed from her job in 1988 because she had become pregnant after having given birth to twins. After following the official procedures to petition the authorities about her dismissal and against the treatment she suffered at the hands of the police, she was repeatedly detained by the police and confined in psychiatric hospitals, where she was administered shock therapy against her will. In April 2004, she was sentenced to the detention camp.

“We support family planning programs that uphold informed choice and quality of care and are voluntary and free from coercion,” said Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice. “We have recognized the Chinese government’s attempts to reform its family planning program through voluntary, non-coercive programs in conjunction with UNFPA, but a case like Mao Hengfeng’s is untenable and unconscionable. China must address this abuse and other cases like it and move toward greater reproductive freedom and justice for all its citizens.”

In September 2003, Ms. Kissling led a delegation of religious and faith-based organization leaders and ethicists to China to assess the work of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in improving the provision of quality reproductive health care services. They found that UNFPA has been and remains a major force in encouraging China’s continued transition to a fully voluntary and non-coercive family planning program.

Rev. Carlton Veazey, the president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, also participated in the trip. “We are aware of some of the positive efforts made by China to ensure compliance with international norms in both human rights and the reproductive rights of couples,” said Rev. Veazey. “However, even when positive changes are occurring at an official level that favor these rights, abuses occur. It is critical that violations such as the case of Mao Hengfeng be immediately addressed in order to achieve reproductive freedom worldwide.”

“Women and men should be free to choose when and how many children they have,” said Wanda Nowicka, president of the Federation for Women and Family Planning in Poland. “Governments should not force them to make decisions against their will and in violation of their human rights.”

“The imprisonment of Mao Hengfeng qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment, and a clear violation of her fundamental rights,” added Elizabeth Maguire, president of Ipas. “I urge the President to release her and to adhere to the internationally recognized rights of women everywhere to determine the number, spacing and timing of their children, free of coercion and violence.”

China, a signatory to the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action, has committed to “secure conformity to human rights and to ethical and professional standards in the delivery of family planning and related reproductive health services aimed at ensuring responsible, voluntary and informed consent and also regarding service provision.”

The letter, coordinated by Catholics for a Free Choice, was signed among others by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Center for Women’s Policy Studies, the International Women’s Health Coalition, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, Population Action International, Population Connection, Torture Abolition and Survivor’s Support Coalition International and religious leaders from the Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran and Unitarian churches as well as Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist leaders.

Click here to read the letter to China’s President Hu Jintao