The photo of the exhausted Chinese mother Feng Jianmei lying next to her stillborn baby unleashed a wave of international outrage.
The Chinese government forced the 27-year-old to terminate her pregnancy in the seventh month because she could not pay the fine for having a second child.
Subsequently, Beijing officially apologised for the incident, the ‘justification’ for which was China’s controversial one-child policy.
Today, the South China Morning Post reported that her husband, the 29-year-old Deng Jiyuan, has been missing since Sunday night after the family suffered days of harassment by local officials.
According to his sister, the harassment started after he said he planned to go to Beijing for an interview about the abortion. It intensified after the family gave an interview to the German weekly magazine Stern on Friday.
A large banner reading ‘Beat the traitors soundly and expel them from Zengjia township’ had reportedly been put up in their town. Local officials have denied any link to the protests.
MM spoke with Dr Elena Barabantseva, lecturer for Chinese politics and international relations at the University of Manchester, who is currently in China.
She said that this abortion has led to an unprecedented number of posts in Sina Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter, condemning the behaviour of the local authorities in Shaanxi, where the incident occurred.
“There are many blog posts discussing this issue, and I have even come across a poem dedicated to the aborted girl. It is undoubtedly Chinese netizens’ achievement that the government officials apologised on this occasion”, she said.
“Although the government apologised and paid a compensation of $789, there are attempts to silence further discussion. Many websites reporting or discussing the issue are blocked in China. People here doubt that those responsible for this incident will be punished,” she added.
Following the incident, rights activists raised their voices that China's one-child policy meant women were being coerced into abortions.
Commenting on the prevalence of forced abortions resulting from the policy, Dr Barabantseva said: “It is difficult to say how often these cases occur, but my impression is that it is a widely spread phenomenon. To meet the requirements imposed from above, local officials strictly abide by the rules and seek any means to enforce China’s one-child policy.”
In 2005, the Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, now in US protection, and his wife Yuan Weijing documented complaints about forced abortions and sterilisation used to enforce a family planning campaign. They revealed cases of several women who were forced to abort within days of their due dates.
An investigation later confirmed Chen’s claims.
Chinese authorities say that the one-child policy, or as they call it ‘family planning policy’, has helped reduce the population by as many as 400 million people.
“The policy has survived for so long because the government deems it to be an effective means to control the growth of population,” explains Dr Barabantseva.
However, she points out that some scholars say these claims are exaggerated by the government.
They say the decline in the population would have occurred naturally similar to China’s neighbouring countries in East Asia, including Hong Kong and Japan where fertility rates are very low.
According to the CIA, China’s estimated population growth for 2011 is 0.481% which positions it 152nd in the international ranking list.
The policy, implemented in order to curb population growth in the world’s most populous country, is not imposed on everyone equally.
It mostly affects the predominantly Han urban population. Exempt from the policy are rural residents, ethnic minorities and returned overseas Chinese. Families where both parents hold a PhD degree and families where both parents are single children can have a second child.
“In some rural areas the second child is allowed if the first one was a girl, an explicit reflection of the traditional preference for boys,” said Dr Barabantseva.
“The majority of Chinese in China I know support the policy. ‘China has too many people’ is one of the most common comments made by Chinese people one comes across when talking about social issues in China.
Having said this, many people do not agree with the means by which the policy is enforced. They question the fees applied to the families violating one-child policy restrictions, people say that it is not clear how exactly this fine is spent and who it benefits.”
Dr Barabantseva mentioned that there are a number of problems associated with the policy including an increasing ratio between elderly and young people and a growing sex imbalance, due to a traditional preference for boys.
The lack of women in some areas has resulted in kidnapping and trafficking of women, and in the growth of prostitution, she says.
However, even after 33 years of existence and a number of controversies associated with it, China’s one-child policy seems to live on.
“As the Global Times, Chinese official news website aimed at the international audience, put it ‘First things first, forced termination of late-term pregnancies must be condemned and banned. But it should not be a reason for refuting the whole policy, which has freed China from the burden of an extra 400 million people’. So, the policy is unlikely to be scrapped in the near future”, Dr Barabantseva said.