Chinese Activist’s Struggle for Human Rights

Eesha Pandit

Mao Hengfeng continues to speak out against China's restrictive one-child policy, despite harassment and arrest. Her incredible story is one for the books.

A Chinese activist, facing a 2 and 1/2 year jail sentence for speaking out against China's restrictive one-child policy had her appeal turned down after a 10-minute court session. Officially, Mao Hengfeng was sentenced in January for allegedly breaking two lamps while in a detention house in Shanghai, as reported by the advocacy group Human Rights in China (HRC).

Mao, now 46, has been actively protesting China's one-child policy for the past 19 years. China's policy was implemented in the 1970's and limits most urban couples to one child and rural families to two in an effort to manage the conservation of natural resources and curb population growth. Activists who speak out against the family planning policy are often harassed and/or arrested.

Mao's story, however, is one for the books.

In 1988 she became pregnant in violation of the one-child policy. She refused to have an abortion, and was fired from her job at a soap factory. She was told she could have her job back if she terminated a third pregnancy, which she did. The state, however, refused to reinstate her job. Since then, Hengfeng has been petitioning China about this gross violation of human rights. In April of 2004, Hengfeng was sentenced to 18 months in a prison labor camp for refusing to stop protesting the policy. She was arrested and ordered to undergo "re-education through labor." According to HRC she was subjected to torture while in prison. Amnesty International believes that she is a prisoner of conscience.

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Detained by Shanghai's Yangpu Public Security Bureau in a guesthouse, Mao allegedly broke two table lamps and as a result was formally arrested on June 30, 2006 (she was detained a few days before the June 4 Tianamen Square Protests), on charges of "intentionally destroying property." The rights group said Mao's lawyer never got the chance to present evidence for her case and to draw attention to the value of the lamps that Mao is alleged to have broken to illustrate the completely "disproportionate nature of her sentence." Despite this incredible story, we've heard very little about Mao Hengfeng here in the United States.

This is a grave affront to women's dignity. Mao lost the ability to decide when and how she has children and then she lost her job. Not only are women prevented from having control over their bodies, but violation means loss of their livelihood itself. These policies have severe consequences, ranging from extreme bodily coercion (abortion, sterilization, IUD insertions) to seriously skewed sex ratios among young children.

Prenatal sex-selective abortion is also something to look more closely at. Although ultrasound and other prenatal testing for the purpose of sex-selective abortion are illegal in China, it's extremely hard to detect or prevent. Thus, if the pressure to implement the current population policies remains high, such misuse of technology and the abuse and violence against women will probably continue and possibly escalate. And tragically, cases like Mao Hengfeng's will become increasingly common.

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