Raela Kadeer is the daughter of Rebiya Kadeer, president of the Germany-based exile group, the World Uyghur Congress. Raela Kadeer came to the United States from China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in March 1996, one of six siblings from her mother’s first marriage. The third oldest child in her family, she talks about China’s family-planning policy:
“When I was 13 or 14 [the government] started implementing the one-child policy, with two children for minorities including Tibetans, Uyghurs, and Mongols...Even though we were part of China before, the government didn't have that much control over Uyghurs. There was no birth policy in effect. We were really shocked when we heard that everybody was only allowed to have one child. I had never really traveled beyond Xinjiang at that time and I didn’t understand why the government did these things. Now I understand why things are the way they are.”
“Part of it is due to religious beliefs. We didn’t have many technological advances or many hospitals. If you got really sick and went to a hospital, you would only get medicine that was as strong as Tylenol. When I was little I saw babies die. Not much of China had modern technology. That was one of the reasons people did not get birth control and the other was related to religion.”
“[When] I was only 15 or 16, my mother was pregnant with my younger sister, who is 19 years old now. It was at that time that I realized that such a thing existed. We had heard about it at the time on TV, but people never followed the rules because we didn’t feel like we were part of China. Yes, we lived with Chinese, but we didn’t think of the Chinese as ‘controlling’ us. We did things according to our traditions. We lived our own lives the way we used to.”
“When my mother became pregnant with my younger sister we really found out. She was a pretty influential lady in Xinjiang at that time and it was pretty bad for the government to tell everyone, ‘You have to have [only] one child, you have to have that abortion.’ While my mom was pregnant and she was famous all over Xinjiang, people would look at her and say, ‘She can do it, why can’t we?’ So the government was after my mom. She knew that was how bad it was, but she didn’t let us know that she was pregnant and I didn’t know until she was four or five months pregnant. Then she went into hiding—she was hiding pretty well. I found out when she was around eight months pregnant that they were going to force her to have an abortion.”
“That happens all the time in China right now. If you’re nine months pregnant and you find out the government is after you, people run. But you end up having no option other than to go to the hospital. When you go to the hospital, they give you a shot and kill the baby before it is born. At the time, the Chinese government didn’t really know whether they would cause a scandal if they started aborting babies.”
On the run
“In China, bribery is one of the greatest things you can do. If you have money, there is nothing you can’t do. You can be as powerful as anybody else. At the time that my mother was carrying the baby, 45,000-50,000 yuan was the equivalent of U.S. $50,000 eight years ago in America. You could live your life like a king or queen."
"We didn’t think that was too much money, but a lot of people thought my mom was paying a huge fine. She paid the fine to have that baby. She went to an official birth control office because whoever wants to have a baby, and not have to have an abortion, has to pay a fine. They came up with a policy—your husband could lose his job, which in Xinjiang happens to most families because in Xinjiang we have Muslim families and traditionally the husband works while the women stay home and take care of the babies. The policy started getting really strict around 19 years ago.”
'It's really hard'
“Then later on for myself, I was pregnant with my first child and [the government] said that if you had started working and you are under a certain age, you must wait to have a child. So my first baby I had aborted. For the second baby, even though I used birth control I got pregnant and decided to have it. Seven months later I got pregnant again. Not even a year! So I went to the doctor and told them that I had aborted my first baby and my second one was only seven months old—‘if I have another abortion, what is going to happen?’ This was the same lady that delivered my little sister. She told me that the situation was bad and that I might not be able to have any more kids. She said, ‘You would really have to keep the baby, but in this case I don’t think you can.’”
“If you have a job, it’s really hard. Jobs are really important. I had a job, and I didn’t know what to do. I went to my job and asked them if they would be able to keep the position for me because my baby was still young and I had gotten pregnant again. She said I had to pay a fine every month to my work to keep the job and to keep their mouths shut. The government would go after them if I was pregnant. Also, my husband worked for the government, so this was a pretty big deal. I was four months pregnant—at the stage where you cannot have an abortion…”
“One day someone walked into our house from my ex-husband’s work saying that I had to have an abortion. They were from my husband’s office—a sort of family planning team at work. They watch people within the organization to see who is pregnant, if employees’ wives are pregnant, if they have more than one child, and if the children are separated by four years. You cannot have a child until your first baby is four years old. But also for Uyghurs you can only have two kids. I don’t think there are any other minorities beyond Tibetans, Uyghurs, and Mongols that they have this policy for.”
“So I was going to go someplace else to have the baby and I didn’t know what to do. If I went to the south [of Xinjiang], the family of my father would be in trouble because my dad lives there and they would go after him. Then I was thinking about going to Russia, but it was a bad time in Russia...When I was pregnant I went there and the conditions were pretty bad. Chechens were fighting with Russians. I was in Uzbekistan at the time, and that was one of the reasons I had to come back.”
“My husband and I couldn’t agree and my parents couldn’t agree. So I had to go to the doctor and have another abortion. I kept my job. I think that all Uyghur women are the same way. My ex-father-in-law worked in state security. He's one of the most important people in the Xinjiang government. If they can do this to me, imagine what they do to other people? I went to my father-in-law and I said ‘This is my situation and I need your help’ but he had the exact same answer as the government did.
"'You should have been careful. Have an abortion—there is nothing I can say.'"
"I was pretty shocked. When I spoke to my mom, she had a different opinion. She said ‘why not? Keep the baby. Pay the fine so they will keep their mouths shut.’ But they had already been after me for a long time. They didn’t want another Rebiya Kadeer situation to occur again."
"I know that at work a lot of my friends faced situations like this, and [they] are still having a lot of problems after their abortions. Whether they did it willingly or were forced to, they seem to have a lot of problems with their reproductive systems or with their health.”
Original reporting for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.