Blind human rights activist and attorney Chen Guangcheng, who fellow activists say escaped from house arrest last weekend, had worked to expose forced sterilization and other abuses by Chinese authorities charged with family planning until he was arrested and confined in 2005.
Sophie Richardson, Human Rights Watch China director, said the abuses that Chen revealed have continued, even though the Chinese law requiring families to have only one child is enforced unevenly. Forced abortions, sterilizations, detentions, beatings and firings for those who violate the rules have been reported, activists say.
In Linyi, where Chen exposed abuses, the families of women who fled to avoid losing their babies faced punishment, according to lawyers and residents. Officials seized the women's parents, nephews or cousins to try to force the women to return, The Times' Mark Magnier wrote six years ago:
A woman who would only give her family name as Wang said one of her husband's relatives had two girls and got pregnant last year in hopes of having a boy. When family-planning officials couldn't track her down, they detained Wang and her husband, Xia Jingshan. Wang said that she was released quickly but that her husband was kept for almost a week.
"They beat him with a leather stick until he couldn't breathe," she said. "He was beaten so hard he could barely walk, but the officials propped him up and forced him to go looking for his relatives anyway. He still feels pain in his waist on cloudy or rainy days."
Fearful that Xia would be beaten to death, the pregnant relative returned and submitted to the abortion, even though she was eight months pregnant, Wang said.
"It was a baby boy, and his hair was already very dark," Wang said. "The couple was so sad."
The nonprofit Chinese Human Rights Defenders found the same problems again less than a year and a half ago, when it released a report on reproductive rights. Married women are still required to get permission from the government before they give birth, are pressured to have gynecological tests to check for pregnancy, and are forced to abort when they have reached their birth quotas, it said.
There are some signs of lassitude: Some wealthy Chinese simply pay fines and have more children. State media reported in February that the government wants to drop slogans such as, "We would rather scrape your womb than allow you to have a second child," preferring gentler reminders of the policy.
But the rules hold brutally firm in other areas. In rural regions, local officials might fine poor families or raid villages, forcing women to be sterilized or undergo abortions on trucks, said Renee Xia, executive director of the Rights Defenders nonprofit group.
“These extreme cases are not as frequent as a decade ago,” Xia said. “But the national policy remains in place. If you have a local government with zealous officials, they can go after people.”
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng is seen in an image from a YouTube video.