Monday, May 21, 2007

Birth Control Measures Prompt Riots in China

NY Times, May 21, 2007
Birth Control Measures Prompt Riots in China

BEIJING, May 21 — An intensive campaign to enforce strict
population-control measures prompted violent clashes between the police
and local residents in southwestern China in recent days, witnesses
said, describing the latest incident of rural unrest that has alarmed
senior officials in Beijing.

Villagers and visitors to several counties of Guangxi autonomous region
in southwestern China said rioters smashed and burned government
offices, overturned official vehicles, and clashed with the riot police
in a series of confrontations over the past four days.

They gave varying accounts of injuries and deaths, with some asserting
that as many as five people were killed, including three officials
responsible for population-control work. A local government official in
one of the counties affected confirmed the rioting in an interview by
telephone but denied reports of deaths or serious injuries.

The violence appeared to stem from a two-month-long crackdown in Guangxi
to punish people who violated the country's birth control policy. The
policy limits the number of children families can have legally.

Corruption, land grabs, pollution, unpaid wages and a widening wealth
gap have fueled tens of thousands of incidents of unrest in recent
years, many of them occurring in rural areas that have been left behind
in China's long economic boom.

The central government, expressing concern that unrest could undermine
one-party rule, has alleviated the tax burden on peasants and sought to
curtail confiscations of farmland for development. But China's
hinterland remains volatile compared with the relative prosperity and
stability of its largest cities.

To limit the growth of its population of 1.3 billion, many parts of
China rely more on financial penalties and incentives than on coercive
measures, including forced abortions and sterilizations, that were
common in the 1980s, when the so-called one-child policy was first
strictly enforced.

But local officials who fail to meet annual population control targets
can still come under heavy bureaucratic pressure to reduce births in
their area of responsibility or face demotion or removal from office.

According to villagers and witness accounts posted on the Internet,
officials in several parts of Guangxi mobilized their largest effort in
years to roll back population growth by instituting mandatory health
checks for women and forcing pregnant women who did not have approval to
give birth to abort fetuses.

Several people said officials also slapped fines starting at 500 yuan
and ranging as high as 70,000 yuan, or $65 to $9,000, on families that
had violated birth control measures anytime since 1980. The new tax,
called a "social child-raising fee," was collected even though the vast
majority of violators had already paid fines in the past, the people said.

According to an account published on a Web forum called Longtan,
officials in Bobai County of Guangxi boasted that they had collected 7.8
million yuan in social child-raising fees from February through the end
of April.

Many families objected strongly to the fees and refused to pay.

Witnesses said in such cases villagers were detained, their homes
searched, and valuables, including electronic items and motorcycles,
confiscated by the government.

"Worst of all, the gangsters used hammers and iron rods to destroy
people's homes, while threatening that the next time it would be with
bulldozers," said one local peasant, who identified himself as Nong
Sheng and who faxed a petition letter complaining of the abuses to a
reporter in Beijing.

Nong said the crackdown was widespread in several counties in Guangxi.
He said local courts had declined to hear any cases related to the
matter, citing an edict from local officials.

Other villagers reached by phone described an escalating series of
confrontations that began Thursday and continued through the weekend.

Several described in detail an assault on the government offices of
Shapi Township, Bobai County, by thousands of peasants.

They said villagers broke through a wall surrounding the government
building, ransacked the offices, smashed computers and destroyed
documents and then set fire to the building itself. There were
inconsistent reports of death and injuries during that clash and a
subsequent crackdown by riot police.

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