A two-child policy is a government-imposed limit of two children allowed per family or the payment of government subsidies only to the first two children. It has previously been used in Vietnam. In British Hong Kong in the 1970s, citizens were also highly encouraged to have two children as a limit (although it was not mandated by law), and it was used as part of the region's family planning strategies. Since 2016, it has been implemented in China.
During the 1970s, Chinese citizens were encouraged to have only one child. The ongoing Cultural Revolution and the strain it placed on the nation were large factors. During this time, the birth rate dropped from nearly 6 children per woman to just under 3. (The colloquial term "births per woman" is usually formalized as the Total Fertility Rate (TFR), a technical term in demographic analysis meaning the average number of children that would be born to a woman over her lifetime if she were to experience the exact current age-specific fertility rates through her lifetime.)
As China's youngest generation (born under the one-child policy, which first became a requirement for most couples in 1979) came of age for formation of the next generation, a single child would be left with having to provide support for his or her two parents and four grandparents. In response to this issue, by 2009 all provinces allowed couples to have two children if both parents were only children themselves. After a policy change of the Chinese government in late 2013, most Chinese provinces further relaxed the policy in 2014 by allowing families to have two children if one of the parents is an only child.
Han Chinese living in rural areas were often permitted to have two children, as exceptions existed if the first child was a daughter. Because of cases such as these, as well as urban couples who simply paid a fine (or "social maintenance fee") to have more children, the overall fertility rate of mainland China is, in fact, closer to two children per family than to one child per family (1.8). In addition, since 2012, Han Chinese in southern Xinjiang were allowed to have two children. This, along with incentives and restrictions against higher Muslim Uyghur fertility, was seen as attempt to counter the threat of Uyghur separatism.
On October 29, 2015, Xinhua reported the change in the existing law to a two-child policy citing a statement from the Communist Party of China. The new policy allowing Chinese couples to have two children was proposed in order to help address the aging issue in China. On December 27, 2015, the new law was passed in the session of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, which governs country's laws, effective from January 1, 2016.
See also: Demographics of Hong Kong
In British Hong Kong, the Eugenics League was founded in 1936, which became The Family Planning Association of Hong Kong in 1950. The organization provides family planning advice, sex education, and birth control services to the general public of Hong Kong. In the 1970s due to the rapidly rising population, it launched the "Two is Enough" campaign, which reduced the general birth rate through educational means. The organization founded the International Planned Parenthood Federation, with its counterparts in seven other countries. The total fertility rate in Hong Kong is currently 1.04 children per woman, one of the lowest in the world. Although the "Two is Enough" campaign found widespread approval, it does not reflect current government policy in supporting families. Tax allowances of 100,000 HK$ per child can be claimed for up to 9 children. Furthermore, parents who have fallen into hardship can apply for special assistance from the state. This is a means-tested financial benefit, which is not limited to a particular number of children either.
Iranian authorities encouraged families in Iran not to have more than two children when conducting family planning in Iran from early 1990s to late 2006. Iran's government "declared that Islam favored families with only two children", as one historian put it. When the family planning program was initiated, Iran's Health Ministry launched a nationwide campaign and introduced contraceptives - pills, condoms, IUDs, implants, tubal ligations, and vasectomies. Starting in 2006, the government's population control policy changed when Ahmadinejad called for reversal of Iran's existing policy of "two children is enough" and later in 2012 Ayatollah Khamenei also stated that Iran's contraceptive policy made sense 20 years ago, "but its continuation in later years was wrong ... Scientific and experts studies show that we will face population aging and reduction (in population) if the birth-control policy continues."
Main article: Population control in Singapore
In Singapore, the two-child policy until the 1980s was called "Stop at Two".
In July 2007, the think tank Optimum Population Trust (now Population Matters) advocated what the Daily Mail described as a "'two-child' policy" to combat population increases and climate change in the United Kingdom. The article stated:
"According to the report, published by the Optimum Population Trust, Britain's high birth rate is a major factor in the current level of climate change, which can only be combated if families voluntarily limit the number of children they have."
In October 2012, the Conservative Party's proposed policy of only paying child benefit for the first two children of unemployed parents has been described as a 'two-child policy', and has been fronted by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and former leader of the Conservative Party Iain Duncan Smith.
In April 2015, David Cameron denied any such plans to cut child benefits or tax credits. However, three months later, George Osborne, the then Finance Minister, announced that child tax credits would be limited to the first two children only. This was to come into force from the 2017/2018 financial year and apply to children born after that date only.
The two-child policy took effect on 5 April 2017. One particular aspect of the new rules, termed the "rape clause", has caused controversy. Although the policy excludes all but the first two children from all available benefits, an exemption can be applied for if the conception of the third and any further children occurred as a result of the rape of the claimant. A woman wishing to claim this exemption must fill in an eight-page form:
"The form requires women wanting to be eligible for the exemption to sign a declaration saying they were raped or otherwise coerced into sex – and giving the child’s name. They must sign a declaration reading: 'I believe the non-consensual conception exemption applies to my child.' They must also sign another declaration that says: 'I confirm that I am not living with the other parent of this child.'"
That the woman must thereby identify the child in question (which is thought to be assigned a tax code created for this exemption), that first or second children conceived by rape do not count towards this exemption and that women who are still living with their abusers are not eligible are just some of the aspects of the rape clause that caused widespread condemnation. Ruth Graham, writing for Slate, summarises the issues surrounding this new policy thus:
"The policy and the exemption have received harsh criticism from a wide variety of sources since they were announced in 2015. One member of parliament called the exemption implementation 'inhumane and barbaric.' Feminists have pointed out the cuts disproportionately affect women. A coalition of the U.K.’s largest Christian denominations and Jewish groups pointed out that the policy discriminates against people whose religion compels them to have larger families. A United Nations committee on children’s rights asked the British government to explain the policy last year, because of concerns about women having to somehow prove they were raped."
Vietnam has had a population policy for over 50 years. It was launched by the Vietnamese government in the early 1960s in North Vietnam and continues in a modified form today throughout united Vietnam. The policy emphasizes the official family-size goal to be một hoặc hai con, which means "one or two children."
In 2014 Vietnam had an estimated population of 92.5 million people, which represented 1.28% of the total world population. Currently, the total fertility rate of Vietnam is 1.8 (births per woman), which is below the replacement-level fertility of 2.1, the rate "at which a population exactly replaces itself from one generation to the next" according to the World Resources Institute.
From 1954 to 1975, Vietnam was split into North and South Vietnam along the 17th parallel with separate governments and policies in each region. North Vietnam became the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and had a communist government, whereas South Vietnam became the Republic of Vietnam and was more aligned with the United States and other Western nations. In 1963, North Vietnam began a policy advocating a two-or-three-child norm due to the sharp population increase of the largely poor and rural population. Vietnam's family planning policy was developed before those of other countries, such as China and India, the government used a system of information, education, communication (IEC) campaign and publicly accessible contraceptives to curb the population. After the reunification of North and South Vietnam in 1975 under the Communist Party, there was a governmental effort to extend the policies of the North to the rest of Vietnam, which extended into the next decade. Though the government of the Republic of Vietnam adopted family planning in general as the official state policy, inadequate medical facilities prevented the policy from being effectively implemented.
In 1982, the Vietnam government practiced various family planning measures, including the allowance of use of abortion and the creation of the National Committee for Population and Family Planning. After 1983, each family was required to limit the number of children to two. In 1985, the government increased incentives, such as contraceptives and abortion acceptors, and disincentives, such as penalties for violations in family planning.
In 1986, the Party implemented the Renovation (Đổi Mới) Policy, which completely reversed the Communist Party economy to implement capitalistic market ideals. The aims of the Renovation Policy were to end Vietnam's economic isolation, increase competitiveness, and raise living standards. In an attempt to effectively develop the population socioeconomically and increase the standard of living within the population, the Vietnam government emphasized the need to contain birth rates. In 1988, Council of Ministers issued an in-depth family planning policy, adding additional restrictions beyond the previous restriction of keeping the maximum number of children per household to two. The detailed one-or-two-child policy of Vietnam was established nine years after China's one-child policy was implemented, and elements of China's policy are reflected in Vietnam's, such as the emphasis on marrying later, postponing childbearing age (22-years of age or older for women and 24-years of age or older for men), and spacing out birth of children (3–5 years apart). The state was required to supply free birth control devices (such as intrauterine loops, condoms, and birth control pills) and to provide facilities for individuals who are eligible for abortions. Furthermore, if families did not comply with the two-child policy, they were required to pay high fees and were unable to move into urban centers.
In 1993, the Vietnamese government issued the first formalization for the unified Vietnam of the one-to-two child policy as a mandatory national policy. The policy combined advertisements and education to promote a smaller family "so people may enjoy a plentiful and happy life." The Vietnamese government explicitly linked the family planning policy with "historical and cultural traditions, value structures and development objectives," encouraging a collectivist mindset in which individuals honor the needs of the nation above their own. The goal of the policy was to reduce the Vietnamese fertility rate to the replacement level of 2.1 by 2015, so that the country could have a stable population during mid-21st century. In 1997, the goal was accelerated to reach the replacement level by 2005, and the government subsequently integrated an increased use of abortion as a means to curb population growth.
In 2003, the Standing Parliamentary Committee of the National Assembly issued the highest legislative document on population titled the Population Ordinance, which restructured the official family planning policy. According to the ordinance, couples "shall have the right to decide on the time to have babies, the number of children and the duration between child births." However, shortly after, the government implemented the National Strategy on Population 2001-2010, which again called for decreasing the fertility rate to the replacement level by 2005. This caused controversy as individuals protested the conflicting messages purported by the government in regards to their reproductive rights. To address this confusion, the government issued Resolution 47 in 2005 which stated that "to sustain high economic growth, Viet Nam needs to pursue a population control policy until it has become an industrialized country." However at this time, the population had already reached the goal of having a total fertility rate below the replacement level.
In 2009, the Population Ordinance was amended to again restrict the number of children to be one or two children, although individuals were allowed to decide the timing and spacing of their births. The government is currently drafting a new Law on Population to replace the Population Ordinance in 2015. However, there is disagreement between policy makers and academics on what should be included in the law.
The organizational structure of the two-child policy was housed under different governmental units since its conception in the 1960s. As the policy evolved from "Initiation in the 1960s-1970s; Maturity in the 1980s-1990s; and Legalization in the 2000s-2010s," the administration of the population policy also changed. From 1961-1983, the population program fell under the Population and Birth Control Unit. From 1984-2002, it was under the control of National Committee for Population and Family Planning. From 2003-2006, it was in the jurisdiction of the Viet Nam Commission for Population, Family, and Children. Since 2007, the population program has been under the General Office for Population and Family Planning.
Although the policy was advocated on the national level, the central government did not utilize specific fines or incentives, instead delegating implementation responsibilities to local governments. Each family was required to have at most two children, and local governments were responsible to decide the details of enforcement. Depending on the specific location, district governments charged fines ranging from 60 to 800 kilograms of paddy rice, equivalent to the worth of a month to a year's wages, for each additional child, and additionally, women who agreed to be sterilized were given bonuses of 120 to 400 kilograms of rice. Individuals who did not use contraceptives sometimes had their names announced over the intercom system of the village to shame them into using them, whereas individuals who did could be selected to win the Labor Medal for "good realization of the population-family planning program." The government and large companies also regularly denied people who violated the policy of their salaries, promotions, and sometimes even their jobs.
Currently, the effective population policy is the revised 2009 Population Ordinance which states that "each couple and individual has the right and responsibility to participate in the campaigns on population and family planning, reproductive health care: (i) decide time and birth spacing; (ii) have one or two children, exceptional cases to be determined by the Government." Thus, individuals have control over the timing and spacing of the births of their children but are still restricted in the number of children they are allowed to have. Furthermore, later that year, Chief Executive Trương Tấn San stressed the need for continued diligence in population control and stated that the population of Vietnam should be 100 million people by 2020, and suggested that a new comprehensive Law on Population be introduced to the government by 2015.
Effects of this policy
Reduction of the birthrate
The total fertility rate in Vietnam dropped from 5.6 in 1979 to 3.2 by 1993, suggesting the two-child policy was successful in containing the population growth. According to one demographic model, the Bongaarts' model of components of fertility, high rates of contraceptive use and of induced abortion are plausible explanations for the decreased fertility rate. Furthermore, because of this policy, the population has fundamentally changed their ideas of the family. In 1988, the Inter-Censal Demographic and Health Survey found that parents wanted an average of 3.3 children, and in 1994, they found that the ideal number of children fell to 2.8.
However, the reported findings differ depending on the fertility model utilized and on the particular research study cited. The United Nations Economic and Social Council for Asia and the Pacific found that the average number in household was 3.1 in 1998. In another study conducted by the America-based non-profit, non-governmental organization Population Reference Bureau, the number found was lower at 2.3. Another study, published in the Worldwide State of the Family in 1995 by Tran Xuan Nhi, found a contrasting finding that the total fertility rate only dropped slightly and the size of nuclear families experienced only a slight change, dipping from 4.8 to 4.7 from 1989 to 1994.
There is evidence that son preference exists in Vietnam. Traditionally, men oversee and are responsible for household enterprises, managing agriculture, ancestral worship, and carrying on the family name. However, although the desire for a son is seen in the Vietnamese family's fertility practices, the desire for more than one son is not. Families with two daughters are twice as likely to have a third child than families with at least one son, presumably with the hopes that this one will be a boy. Furthermore, women who do not have any sons are around 15% less likely to use contraceptives than families who have at least one. There were also increased rates of "contraceptive failure" amongst couples who had a son, as families secretly removed an IUD to bypass the policy in hopes of having a son. This is consistent with findings from other East Asian countries in which son preference corresponds with a demand for fewer children so that families will have at least one son to maintain the ancestral line.
Despite the evidence for son preference, there is no clear evidence that Vietnam's sex ratio at birth is increasing, as seen in other East Asian countries, notably China, though evidence is conflicting depending on the source. In fact, according to the Vietnamese census data for 1989 and 1999, the sex ratios of males to females at birth are actually decreasing. On the other hand, some sources state that the impact of son preference varies by region of Vietnam. In the north, there is a strong relationship between sex bias in fertility decisions and number of male births, while in the south, this relationship is nonexistent. However, mothers who pursue certain occupations, such as government cadres and farmers, are more likely to want a particular sex of child and have higher sex-ratio differences at birth. This reflects the pressure for government employees to adhere to the two-child limit, and the perceived necessity of males for manual labor in the farm.
Although the policy states that "the state will supply, free of charge, birth control devices... to eligible persons who are cadres, manual workers, civil servants or members of the armed forces... and poor persons who register to practice family planning... The widespread sale of birth control devices will be permitted to facilitate their use by everybody that needs them," the only modern contraceptive readily available in Vietnam is the IUD. However, many women choose not to use it due to the side effects, such as increased bleeding, back and abdominal pains, headache, and general weakness. Thus, contraceptive use is low among women under the age of 25, and experts have speculated that "contraceptive use among young women might increase if temporary, easy-to-use methods, such as the pill and the condom, were more accessible. For the government to achieve its two-child policy, the survey committee recommends increased promotion of the commercial availability of the condom and the pill, and strengthening of the government family planning program."
Abortion rates in Vietnam are unusually high by international standards, with a total abortion rate of at least 2.5 abortions per woman. Generally, the abortion rate for young age groups is higher than older age groups due to a limited awareness of contraceptive methods and availability. Individuals of lower educational levels also have higher abortion rates. Vietnam also has some of the world's most liberal abortion laws, though the Vietnamese government is aiming to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortion-related difficulties. Although sex-selective abortions were banned by the government in 2006, there is evidence that suggests that son preference is associated with a higher likelihood of repeat abortions, as women with no sons were significantly less likely to have a repeat abortion compared to women with one son.
There are multiple factors influencing Vietnam's high abortion rates. First, because women do not have access to contraceptive methods besides IUDs, whilst condoms remain expensive relative to average income, as a result many do not use effective birth control. Women who have undergone multiple abortions used short-term methods of contraceptives, such as condoms and contraceptive pills, which are less effective than long-acting contraceptives to which many do not have access. Secondly, due to the higher costs of raising a child in some geographic areas of Vietnam, abortions have become more acceptable. Furthermore, the era of modernization and development of free-market reforms since the 1980s has led to a rise in premarital and unwanted pregnancy, and subsequently increased abortion services. Additionally, the Vietnamese government has insufficient alternatives to abortion within the family planning purposes and a lack of post-abortion contraceptive dialogues for families. Thus, experts have suggested providing more diverse, long-acting contraceptive alternatives and increasing counseling for families that have experienced an abortion as methods to decrease abortion in Vietnam.
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Ruled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for more than six decades, China remains an authoritarian state, one that systematically curtails a wide range of fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression, association, assembly, and religion. While there were a few modest positive developments in 2015—authorities, for example, reduced the number of crimes eligible for the death penalty from 55 to 46 and issued directives guaranteeing students with disabilities “reasonable accommodation” in university entrance exams—the trend for human rights under President Xi Jinping continued in a decidedly negative direction.
Senior Chinese leaders, perceiving a threat to their power, now explicitly reject the universality of human rights, characterizing these ideas as “foreign infiltration,” and penalizing those who promote them. Freedoms of expression and religion, already limited, were hit particularly hard in 2015 by several restrictive new measures.
Individuals and groups who have fought hard in the past decade for human rights gains were the clearest casualties of an aggressive campaign against peaceful dissent, their treatment starkly contrasting with President Xi’s vow to promote “rule of law.” Between July and September, about 280 human rights lawyers and activists were briefly detained and interrogated across the country. About 40 remain in custody, most in secret locations without access to lawyers or family, some beyond the legal time limits; most have been accused of being part of a “major criminal gang” that “seriously disrupts public order.” The government has shut down or detained staff of a number of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and arrested and imprisoned many activists.
The government also proposed or passed laws on state security, cybersecurity, counterterrorism, and the management of foreign NGOs; these laws conflate peaceful criticism of the state with threats to national security. For example, the second draft of the Foreign Non-Governmental Organizations Management Law imposes an onerous supervisory framework and restrictions on staffing and operations of these organizations, and gives police an expansive role in approving and monitoring their work. Although close scrutiny of NGOs is not new for a government that has long labeled peaceful criticism as a threat to state power, the proliferation of laws authorizing such intrusion provides officials with even more ammunition to intimidate or punish activists.
President Xi’s domestically popular anti-corruption campaign continues to feature prosecutions that violate the right to a fair trial. In June, former security czar Zhou Yongkang was given a life sentence following a closed-door trial and months of unlawful and secret detention. At the same time, anti-corruption activists involved in the New Citizens Movement, including legal scholar Xu Zhiyong, continue to languish in jail.
Human Rights Defenders
Activists seeking to defend human rights have faced a surge in reprisals under Xi, at times enduring arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, politicized prosecutions, and torture by authorities in response to their work.
Various NGOs have been closed and their staff detained on bogus charges. In late 2014, authorities detained Guo Yushan and He Zhengjun, the director and administrative manager of the prominent Beijing-based public policy think tank, Transition Institute, accusing them of “illegal business operations;” they were released on bail in September 2015. In June, two former directors of Zhengzhou Yirenping, a group affiliated with the prominent anti-discrimination organization Beijing Yirenping, were taken into custody. They were subsequently released, but a government spokesperson vowed to “punish” Yirenping for unspecified “unlawful activities.” Other NGOs, even lesser-known ones or ones working on subjects considered less politically sensitive, such as the Shenzhen Christian Guan’ai Home for the Homeless, faced closure and arrests.
In addition to the nationwide round-up of about 280 lawyers and activists in 2015, human rights lawyers were increasingly subject to physical assault, including by court officials. In August, lawyer Zhang Kai was detained for providing legal advice to Christians in Zhejiang Province who had resisted the authorities’ forced removal of crosses on church buildings. Other lawyers, including Pu Zhiqiang and Tang Jingling, detained in separate cases since May 2014, remain in custody pending trial or verdict.
The government has increasingly used vague public order charges to silence human rights defenders. At time of writing, Guo Feixiong, a prominent Guangdong activist, was still awaiting a verdict after being tried in November 2014 for “gathering crowds to disturb social order.”
A number of activists, including elderly journalist Gao Yu, Pu Zhiqiang, Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti, and anti-corruption activist Liu Ping, continue to be detained or imprisoned without adequate medical care.
Freedom of Expression
The Chinese government tightly restricts freedom of expression through censorship and punishments. While the Internet has offered a marginally freer space, the government censors politically unacceptable information through means such as the “Great Firewall.” Despite media censorship, journalists and editors have at times pushed the limits of acceptable expression.
In 2015, government agencies such as the State Internet Information Office issued multiple new directives, including tightened restrictions over the use of usernames and avatars, and requirements that writers of online literature register with their real names. The government has also shut down or restricted access to Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), which many users depend on to gain access to content otherwise blocked to users inside the country.
In March, authorities also deployed a new cyber weapon, the “Great Cannon,” to disrupt the services of GreatFire.org, an organization that has worked to undermine China’s censorship. In July, the government published a draft cybersecurity law that will requires domestic and foreign Internet companies to practice censorship, register users’ real names, localize data, and aid government surveillance. In August, the government announced that it would station police in major Internet companies to more effectively prevent “spreading rumors” online.
In January 2015, Education Minister Yuan Guiren told universities to ban teaching materials that promote Western values and censor speech constituting “attack and slander against the Party.”
In April, prominent journalist Gao Yu was sentenced to seven years in prison for allegedly leaking an internal CCP document calling for greater censorship of liberal and reformist ideas. She was forced to confess, and the confession was aired on state TV long before criminal investigations against her ran their course.
Financial reporting has often appeared less tendentious than political journalism. But in August, the government took the alarming step of detaining Wang Xiaolu, a financial reporter, for having written about the authorities’ deliberations over withdrawing stabilizing measures in response to the sharp declines in the Chinese stock market crash in June and July.
Also in August, the Urumqi government tried two brothers of Shohret Hoshur of Radio Free Asia, a reporter based in the United States, on state security charges; the brothers likely were being punished for Hoshur’s critical reporting on conditions in Xinjiang, a sensitive minority region in western China. In September, a computer programmer was sentenced to 12 years in prison for placing anti-CCP slogans on TV.
While the CCP is rhetorically committed to gender equality, its lack of respect for human rights means that women continue to face systemic discrimination on issues ranging from employment to sexual harassment. Family planning policies, which control the number and spacing of children people can have, continue to impose severe restrictions on women’s reproductive freedoms. In October, authorities announced an end to its decades-old “one-child” policy; couples may now have two children.
In March, at least 10 women’s rights activists were taken into custody by police for plans to post signs and distribute leaflets to raise awareness about sexual harassment in three Chinese cities. Five were soon released, but the others were held for 37 days on charges of “picking quarrels,” sparking a widespread international outcry. Though the five were released on bail, continuing restrictions on their movements and police harassment led them to close their organization, the Weizhiming Women’s Center in Hangzhou.
In March, the Supreme People’s Court and other agencies issued instructions requiring judges to consider domestic violence as a mitigating circumstance in criminal cases against victims of such violence. In August, China’s legislature reviewed a draft of the long-awaited Law against Domestic Violence. While a step in the right direction, the draft falls short of international standards, particularly in its definition of domestic violence. Cases of domestic violence in which local authorities fail to respond appropriately continue to occur with worrying regularity. In July, for example, a woman was killed by her husband during a mediation session in a police station.
Freedom of Religion
The government restricts religious practice to five officially recognized religions and only in officially approved religious premises. The government audits the activities, employee details, and financial records of religious bodies, and retains control over religious personnel appointments, publications, and seminary applications.
In 2015, authorities continued their campaign to remove crosses from churches, and in some cases demolished entire churches in Zhejiang Province, considered the heartland of Chinese Christianity. The campaign is publicly described as an effort to remove “illegal structures” that do not comply with zoning requirements, but according to an internal provincial directive, it is designed to reduce the prominence of Christianity in the region.
At least a hundred Christians have reportedly been briefly detained for resisting the demolitions since the start of the campaign in early 2014. At least one church leader, Huang Yizi, was convicted of “gathering crowds to disturb social order” and in March given one year in jail for speaking out against the removals.
In June, a top CCP official told religious leaders that “hostile forces” are using religion to infiltrate China, and that they must “Sinicize religion” to ensure that religious worship contributes to national unity.
The government classifies many religious groups outside its control as “evil cults,” such as Falungong, and membership alone can lead to criminal and extra-legal punishments. Another group, Buddhist sect Huazang Dharma, has been targeted for arrests, and its leader, Wu Zeheng, was sentenced to life in prison in October for “using cults to sabotage law enforcement,” extortion, and other charges.
In August, the National People’s Congress approved proposed changes to article 300 of the Criminal Law, which punishes individuals for organizing and participating in cults. The potential penalty range has been lengthened to include life imprisonment.
China ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2008, but persons with disabilities continue to face barriers and discrimination, including lack of access to education.
More students with low vision and blindness took the national university entrance exams, or gaokao, this year, following the Education Ministry’s 2014 decision to make Braille and electronic versions available. In April, the ministry also promulgated new regulations requiring exam administrators to provide “one or more” forms of “reasonable accommodation,” such as extending the time allowed for completing exams and providing sign language services to students with disabilities taking the gaokao. Given that other laws and regulations do not clearly require education institutions to provide such students with “reasonable accommodation” as defined in the CPRD, the April decision is a significant step forward.
Regulations drafted in 2013 on access to education for people with disabilities have still not been adopted. Official guidelines continue to allow universities to deny enrollment in certain subjects if the applicants have certain disabilities. Consequently, although more students with disabilities can now take the gaokao, many universities continue to deny them entry to their chosen field of study or entry to the university altogether.
The 2013 Mental Health Law stipulates that treatment and hospitalization should be voluntary except in cases where individuals with severe mental health conditions pose a danger to, or have harmed, themselves or others. In April, however, a Shanghai court ruled against Xu Wei, the first patient ever to invoke the law to challenge his confinement. Xu Wei has been held against his will for over a decade for schizophrenia.
Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1997 and removed from an official list of mental illnesses in 2001. There is still no law protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, however, and there is no legal recognition of same-sex partnership.
A 2014 report by a Chinese lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organization revealed that very few Chinese textbooks portray LGBT people using objective and non-discriminatory language.
In what could be a sign of growing social acceptance of same-sex relationships, Chinese social media lit up with discussion and debate following the June US Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in the US. In July, a Sun Yat-Sen University student donned a rainbow flag at a graduation ceremony and received gestures of support from the chancellor; state media widely covered the story.
LGBT groups and individuals continue to file lawsuits that challenge discrimination. In April, a man sued his Shenzhen employer for firing him after a video revealing his sexuality went viral online. In August, a university student in Guangdong Province sued the provincial education department for officially approved textbooks that depict homosexuality as an illness.
The 6th Tibet Work Forum meeting in late August, held to determine central government policy for the region for years to come, emphasized the imperatives of security and “stability,” but authorities failed to address systematic ethnic and religious discrimination and restrictions, or the profound socioeconomic changes brought by massive re-housing and resettlement campaigns in which Tibetans were compelled to participate.
Central government authorities continue to deploy officials in villages and monasteries and have expanded surveillance mechanisms to the grassroots level, a development which appears to have contributed to more frequent arrests of local community leaders, environmental activists, villagers involved in social and cultural activities, and writers and singers whose works are considered sensitive.
In July, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche—one of Tibet’s highest-profile political prisoners—died in detention. In violation of the relevant regulations, authorities refused to release his body or investigate the circumstances of his death. Also in July, Lobsang Yeshe, a village head imprisoned for his role in a local anti-mining protest in May 2014, died in prison following reports that he had been mistreated. Another high profile prisoner, a young Lhasa NGO worker Tenzin Choedrak, died in December, two days after he was abruptly released early from detention.
Protests, particularly against mining and land acquisition, continue despite threats from local authorities. Security forces beat and arrested peaceful protestors in Chamdo in April and in Gannan in June. Following mass protests against mining in a supposedly protected part of Qinghai in 2014, mining operations were reportedly closed down, although the reasons for this remain unclear. After public outcry over corruption in the school exam system, authorities in the Tibet Autonomous Region and Qinghai introduced tighter regulations and prosecuted offenders.
Seven more Tibetans self-immolated in 2015, bringing the total since 2009 to 143.
Xinjiang, home to 10 million Uighurs, continues to be the site of pervasive discrimination, repression, and restrictions on fundamental human rights. Opposition to central and local policies has been expressed in peaceful protests, but also through violent incidents such as bombings, though details about both protests and violence are often scant as authorities keep an especially tight hold over information in Xinjiang.
Chinese authorities in 2015 continued the counterterrorism campaign they launched in Xinjiang in mid-2014, deploying more security forces to the region, and implementing new laws and regulations that further criminalize dissent and restrict religious practice for the region’s Muslim ethnic Uighur population. Since mid-2014, authorities have detained, arrested, or killed increasing numbers of Uighurs alleged by police to have been involved in illegal or terrorist activities, but the authorities’ claims are impossible to verify independently. In June, a group of people attacked a police traffic checkpoint in Kashgar with small bombs and knives. Between 18 and 28 people reportedly died, including 15 suspects killed by police as well as several bystanders.
Xinjiang authorities promulgated comprehensive yet vaguely worded new religious affairs regulations in January. Those prohibit “extremist” attire and ban “activities that damage the physical and mental health of citizens.” In recent years, authorities have used similar official and unofficial directives to discourage or even ban civil servants, teachers, and students from fasting during Ramadan. In March, a Hotan court convicted 25 Uighurs of “endangering state security” for their participation in “illegal” religious studies—in this case, private religious classes.
Although Hong Kong is guaranteed autonomy in all matters other than foreign affairs and defense, and enjoys an independent judiciary and other civil liberties, Beijing appears to be encroaching on the rights to political participation, expression, and assembly there.
In June, Hong Kong’s legislature rejected a Beijing-backed proposed electoral reform package for the region’s chief executive. The proposal, which would expand the franchise but allow a Beijing-dominated nominating committee to screen out candidates it did not like, was opposed by many Hong Kong residents and in 2014 had sparked the months-long “Umbrella Movement” protests.
About 1,000 people were arrested in connection with the “Umbrella Movement,” though most were released without being prosecuted. Authorities have charged student leader Joshua Wong Chi-fung, among others, with “unlawful assembly, and inciting others to take part in an unlawful assembly,” despite those laws’ incompatibility with international freedom of assembly standards. The Independent Police Complaints Council said it had received 159 complaints from demonstrators alleging police assault and abuse that it deemed “required investigation,” but the only police who had been arrested at time of writing were police caught on film beating pro-democracy protester Ken Tsang.
Concerns about freedom of expression in Hong Kong persist, especially for media seen as critical of Beijing. In January, an attacker threw a Molotov cocktail outside the residence of pro-democracy media owner Jimmy Lai. No one was injured, but no one was arrested. In August, two assailants of former Mingpao editor Kevin Lau Chun-to were sentenced; one admitted that they had been paid to stab Lau to “teach him a lesson.”
In July, Reverend Philip Woo Siu-hok was summoned to Shenzhen by religious affairs authorities to warn him against preaching to mainlanders who come to Hong Kong.
Key International Actors
Few governments exerted any substantial pressure on China over its worsening human rights record in 2015, instead limiting their interventions to bilateral human rights dialogues with the Chinese government and occasional public expressions of concern.
Some, such as the United Kingdom, went so far as to urge legislators in Hong Kong to accept Beijing’s undemocratic electoral package, arguing that “something is better than nothing.” New European Union High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Federica Mogherini failed to publicly raise human rights abuses with Chinese leaders at a summit in May, as did US President Barack Obama during a state visit by Xi in September.
A remarkable diversity of governments, business and trade associations, universities, and other international organizations voiced concern through statements and submissions to the National People’s Congress regarding China’s draft foreign NGO management law after a second draft of the law was made public in May.
In August, the International Olympic Committee awarded Beijing the 2022 Winter Olympic Games despite international concerns about the current crackdown on rights and the lack of accountability for human rights abuses that accompanied, and in important respects were fueled by, China’s preparations for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.
Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, China continues to aggressively advance its territorial claims in Asia, causing particular alarm by building structures on small reefs in the South China Seas that could one day accommodate military outposts. At the Security Council, China joined Russia in May 2014 in vetoing a resolution that would have referred the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC); in December, it tried to block discussion of the human rights situation in North Korea.
China continues to allow United Nations rapporteurs to visit on a highly selective basis; the rapporteurs on the freedom of religion, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, human rights defenders, health, extrajudicial executions, independence of judges and lawyers, and the freedom from torture all continue to await a response to their requests to visit. While not playing a visibly assertive role at the UN Human Rights Council, China continues to act as a spoiler, blocking greater scrutiny of human rights situations in other countries, including Belarus, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Ukraine.
Concerns continued to be raised regarding reprisals against Chinese citizens participating in UN processes. The UN secretary-general noted that China had still not replied to communications about the death in custody of human rights defender Cao Shunli, who had been campaigning for greater civil society participation in the UN’s universal periodic review, and both the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and Committee against Torture (CAT) expressed concern at attempts to limit civil society participation in the treaty body reviews. Chinese officials provided few meaningful answers during its November CAT review.
The Chinese government marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II with a massive parade in Beijing. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the ICC for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, attended at Beijing’s invitation.
Beijing stepped up pressure on other governments to return allegedly corrupt officials to China; at least a dozen governments with politicized judicial systems complied and returned several dozen in 2015. China also pressured its neighbors to forcibly return refugees from China. In July, shortly after it had allowed nearly 170 Uighur women and children to resettle in Turkey after more than a year in detention, Thailand forcibly repatriated nearly 100 Uighur men to China, placing them at grave risk of imprisonment and torture.