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Population Media Center (PMC) condemns the alleged policies and actions of the People’s Republic of China as they relate to the Uighur people’s reproductive self-determination. A recently concluded Associated Press (AP) investigation has exposed a xenophobic campaign of horror taking place in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in Northwest China, ancestral home of the Uighurs.
The central government is reportedly using a combination of involuntary pregnancy checks, forced contraceptive use, and involuntary sterilizations and abortions to drastically curtail the number of births by Uighurs. Detention camps are being used to intimidate and coerce families into conformity — while those who have three or more children can be interned away to such camps, unless they can pay huge fines on short notice. The Uighur people are considered one of China’s 55 officially recognized ethnic minorities, and generally self-identify as Muslim. The AP investigation notes that one of the main motivations of the Chinese rulers is to limit the spread and influence of Islam within the country.
This toxic stew of malevolence and violence is what many good people rightly fear when they hear concerns raised about human population size and growth in relation to Earth’s environment and sustainable development. It would be hard to think of a more elucidating example of the categorical differences between coercive “population control” and the ideas and programs those interested in a sustainable population are pursuing.
The world is already facing multiple intertwined crises: endemic racism, a global pandemic, extreme disparities in wealth, health, and quality of life, human forced global warming, species extinction, and ecosystem annihilation. The persecution of the Uighurs and other ethnic and religious minorities by the Chinese government is profoundly regressive and does nothing to advance civilization towards a sustainable planet with equal rights for all.
As sickening and frustrating as these human rights crimes are, they deserve especially close inspection from any who have an interest in human demography and global ecological sustainability — as PMC proudly does. Ecologists and scientists from all around the world have long tried to educate the public about the importance of human population size and growth as it relates to environmental degradation. Importantly, those who work in this space know that the key to slowing population growth is giving women social status and control over her reproductive choices — the opposite of coercion. Accordingly, many highly credentialed individuals, philanthropic foundations, and governments have created and funded programs aimed at creating the conditions for women and couples to attain bona fide reproductive self-determination.
The factors that typically block reproductive self-determination are well understood. They come from various combinations of the low status of women and girls around the world, patriarchal notions of high-desired fertility, and bias against use of modern contraception. The latter is based primarily on rumors, myths, misinformation, and subjugation of women’s actual childbearing preferences.
As such, the best way to ensure reproductive self-determination is through a slate of progressive measures. These include ensuring basic education for women and girls, fighting against gender-based discrimination and violence, and generally raising the status of women and girls in society. It is also important to spread accurate knowledge about family planning to all adults, including the potential benefits in health and welfare of fewer, spaced births for them and their children. Finally, increasing the agency and confidence of women to use modern contraception is critical, including debunking widely held myths about its safety and efficacy. History demonstrates repeatedly that most women do not choose to have more than two children once these objectives have been accomplished and true freedom of choice becomes prevalent in any given society.
Both China’s motivations and actions are in complete contrast to these human rights enhancing activities. They are categorically offensive, but also serve as a textbook illustration of what the ideological anathema coercive “population control” is. It is injustice. It is sadistic disregard for human dignity. It is trauma and tragedy. China’s brutal treatment of the Uighurs is abusive and criminal. Discrimination in any form is unacceptable. Population Media Center calls on people of good conscience to condemn China’s activities — and to pledge to never advocate for, or otherwise support, coercive “population control” for any reason.
We remain steadfast in our mission to empower people to live healthier and more prosperous lives — and to stabilize global population at a level at which people can live sustainably with the world’s renewable resources. Working on the population issue in the 21st century largely means working against the systemic oppression of women and girls that keeps them from reaching their full potential — and thereby keeps fertility artificially elevated.
The end of population growth and eventual gradual decrease are fundamental to the many changes human civilization needs to make to achieve a sustainable future. Thanks in large part to progressive 20th century family planning and women’s empowerment programs, global fertility rates have more than halved from an average of over five children in the mid-1960s to about 2.4 children per woman today.
Population Media Center is proud to carry on with our contributions towards a sustainable future — the stupidity and savagery epitomized by China only gives us reason to raise our voices against it. Anyone working to stop population growth must embrace human rights and advocate relentlessly for reproductive self-determination. This work will eventually result in a beautiful, sustainable planet with equal rights for all.