One Child Policy Leaves Millions of Chinese Women With Unwanted IUDs

2017-01-13
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Woman walks by family planning information in the eastern Chinese city of Qingdao, in undated file photo.
Woman walks by family planning information in the eastern Chinese city of Qingdao, in undated file photo.
AFP

The partial relaxation of China's draconian family planning controls last year has prompted the government to offer free removals of intrauterine devices (IUDs) forced upon millions of women under the policy.

The offer has highlighted decades of state-enforced contraception and the failure of proper follow-up care under the "one-child policy," which gave way to the "two-child policy" at the start of 2016.

Now, women of childbearing age have been offered free IUD removal under the new rules, but there are caveats.

The medical fee waiver only applies to women who are allowed to have another child or who cannot continue to have the IUD for health reasons.

Everyone else will have to pay their own medical bills.

Some 114 million women were registered as using IUDs by the Chinese government in 2006, the most recent year for which figures are available, state media reported.

Nearly eight million IUDs were fitted in China between 2000 and 2009 alone, but many women say they were never offered a check-up or replacement every 10 years, as is recommended with the devices.

A report from the country's state family planning council showed at least 23 percent of IUDs were defective, leading to problems that could require surgical removal or hysterectomy.

"Many are enduring another painful process trying to have the device removed in order to have more children under the new policy," the Global Times newspaper said in a recent report.

Some women have expressed outrage, saying the ruling Chinese Communist Party's offer is too little, too late.

"The Chinese government has really acted shamelessly in doing this," Annie Zhang, president of the U.S.-based group Women's Rights in China, told RFA in a recent interview.

"They treat Chinese women as sub-human; you can have a baby if they say you can have one, but not if they say you can't," she said. "Even the spacing of the children is dictated by the party."

"China's family planning policies hurt women, children and families," she said. "So many women have been sterilized; the figures are quite shocking, and that's not including the women who died on the operating table or from infection."

"And there has been no apology whatsoever from the government," Zhang said.

Documentary film-maker Ai Xiaoming, now 63, said she was forced to have an IUD fitted, but then left with it for decades with no further check-ups.

"In the eyes of the Chinese government, women are seen as having a job to do," Ai said. "If they tell you to have a baby, then you have to have one. If they don't need babies, you can't have one."

Ai said her own IUD developed complications, meaning that she was forced to have a hysterectomy when it couldn't be removed.

In Guangdong, the first province to implement the new population controls in January 2016, couples are still expected to accept sterilization after their regulation two children are born.

And women who have had one child are still required to have an IUD fitted after the first birth, even if they plan to have a second under the new rules.

The Global Times newspaper quoted Nanjing-based population expert Sun Xiaoming as saying that around 25 percent of the women living in rural areas never had their IUDs removed at all, in spite of guidelines requiring their removal within six months of menopause.

They were never told that this was necessary, the paper said.

It quoted specialists as saying that some 26 million Chinese women will need to have an IUD removal operation in the next 10 years after hitting menopause, costing them a total of 2.6 billion yuan in medical bills.

Reported by Han Qing for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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