China’s birth control policy in Tibet

Between September and October of 1996, 308 Tibetan women in the sub-district of Takar in Chushur district under Lhasa City were sterilised over a period of 22 days. One woman died after forced sterilisation and another is reportedly in critical condition. One woman, three months pregnant at the time, was also forced by Chinese officials to abort her child.

Between 20 and 80 families live in each of the 23 villages under the sub-district of Takar, making up a total of 5210 residents. Prior to September 1996, 100 women had already been sterilised in Chushur District Hospital. In September 1996, officials and doctors from Chushur District, the Mother Child Health Care Office in Lhasa City, and the Lhasa City Women’s Hospital arrived at the Takar sub-district and instructed Takar government officials to similarly take strict measures. All women with three children were to be forced to undergo sterilisation.

Each sterilisation operation took between one to two hours and, assisted by Takar hospital staff, two female Chinese doctors from Lhasa Women’s Hospital were able to carry out 14 sterilisations a day for a period of 22 days in September to October 1996.

The oldest of the 308 women sterilised was aged 38 and the youngest was aged 24. The majority of the women had four to five children but some of the women sterilised had only two children already. Thirty-five year old Nyima, pregnant with her fourth child, was forced to abort her three month old child before also being sterilised.

Nyima Dolma, aged 27 from Takar, died in Chushur Hospital three days after her forced sterilisation. Married with two children, Nyima Dolma was in good health and free of any sickness before sterilisation. Chinese officials announced that the cause of the death was ill health.

In another case, Yangzom Dolkar, a 29 year old woman from Takar, was similarly in good health before she was forcibly sterilised. She subsequently fell seriously ill and, faced with extensive health expenses, is now reported to be struggling for her and her family’s livelihood. All of the expenses related to Chinese imposed sterilisations in Tibet must be covered by the individual.

In the case of Nyima Dolma and Yangzom Dolkar, both women were reported to have lost large quantities of blood and to have become weaker and weaker each day as a result of the operation. Although Chinese national regulations specify that women must have a minimum of seven days hospital rest after a sterilisation operation, the women in Takar were allowed a rest period of only three days.

This information was provided by a recent arrival from Takar (name withheld) who says that the Takar health department has been conducting sterilisations and abortions and dispensing contraceptive pills to control the Tibetan birth rate in the region. Birth control policy has been launched in the Takar, Jinup and Nyethang sub-districts of Chushur, he said, adding that some women, struggling to provide care and education to their families, willingly underwent sterilisation.

The informant was employed as a health-worker in Takar Hospital for seven years from March 1991. He was one of seven Tibetans working in the hospital and he, like four of the others, had received only one year’s medical training in Lhasa. He had been approached in his village by a member of the Chinese Communist Party who knew of his family’s poor economic situation and had asked if he would be interested in doing medical work as a way out of his poverty.

In fact the informant received just 60 yuan a month (around US$7.50) for most of his time in Takar hospital and this was increased to 100 yuan a month just before he left Tibet. Two of the other Tibetans working in the hospital who had undergone full medical training received a much higher salary and various government-provided facilities.

Since China’s take-over of Tibet, the Chinese authorities have taken various steps to effect the sinocisation of the Tibetan people. Birth control policy is carried out in all parts of Tibet through propaganda, coercion and strict regulatory measures. The systematic and organised manner in which China is implementing its birth control policy in Tibet corresponds to the Chinese population transfer policy being conducted. It is estimated that some 7.5 Chinese settlers have been moved into Tibet, already outnumbering the 6 million Tibetans. By denying Tibetan women their reproductive rights, China further marginalises ethnic Tibetans in Tibet.

The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy is gravely concerned at reports of China’s coercive birth control policy against Tibetan women in Tibet and believes that this constitutes an immediate and critical threat to the survival of Tibetans as a distinct people. TCHRD considers China’s action to be a direct violation of article 16 of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, to which China is a State Party, which safeguards the right of all women “to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children”.

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