Sterilization quotas are still a common population control technique in the area where, earlier this month, a father of four said he was forced to undergo a vasectomy.
On Feb. 14, the Health and Family Planning Commission of Yunnan Province directed local authorities to investigate the case, which took place in Zhenxiong County, in China’s southwest. But one current and one former village leader in the area have told Sixth Tone that such operations — though not necessarily carried out under coercion — are commonplace.
According to the local leaders, the county government gives villages annual sterilization quotas for residents, based on the number of women of childbearing age in each village. In the past, any woman who had given birth was eligible to have herself or her husband chosen to undergo sterilization to meet the village’s target. Since the two-child policy came into effect in January 2016, it now takes two births to get your name on the list.
A consistent population of women of childbearing age qualifies Luokan Village, the home of the man who said he was forced to undergo a vasectomy, to receive a sterilization quota almost every year. There have been few exceptions, according to former village Party secretary Xiong Guifa, who had been a village committee member for 40 years before retiring last May.
“Around 20 to 30 people need to undergo a sterilization operation each year — at most 40 to 50 people,” Xiong told Sixth Tone. Since the introduction of the two-child policy, the percentage of Luokan’s 6,000 villagers who qualify for the operation has dropped: Last year and this year, the quota was set at a relatively low target of 10 people.
Since many villagers have migrated away for work and only return home once a year to celebrate Spring Festival with their relatives, many of the sterilizations are carried out around the lunar new year. By now, Xiong estimated that the village has completed five or six of this year’s operations.
Xiong also said that during his tenure as a village leader, he found managing the sterilization of locals to be difficult work. A traditional preference for sons, for one, still reigns in Zhenxiong County. Xiong said it’s not uncommon for couples to continue having children — up to five or six — until they have at least one boy.
When contacted by Sixth Tone, a Luokan government employee denied the existence of sterilization quotas, saying, “The villagers did that themselves.” Yuan Chao, an employee at the Zhenxiong County publicity department, told Sixth Tone that sterilizations might be among the tasks assigned to local officials, but that he did not know any details.
Zhu Qiyun, the village Party secretary of neighboring Banqiao Village — which has a population of 9,000 and received a quota of 35 operations last year — said that the village’s failure to meet the target was followed by cuts in government finances and public sector jobs. Though it fell short by only three operations, the village lost 6,000 yuan ($870) in funding as punishment, Zhu told Sixth Tone.
“It’s very hard work to carry out,” Zhu said of the quota enforcement, adding that, last year, all of the people who had to be sterilized had already undergone the operation.
So far, Banqiao Village has completed five of the 20 operations on this year’s agenda. Most recently, Zhu and his colleagues made their rounds of the village on Feb. 15 and persuaded two people to undergo sterilization operations. Zhu worries, though, that as villagers become more aware of the law — specifically that there are no legal grounds on which to require anyone to undergo sterilization — they may back out of the operations, resulting in more funding cuts.
Neither the national law on population and family planning nor provincial regulations stipulate specific sterilization policies. Yunnan’s regulations mention only that it is the responsibility of local authorities to guide residents toward safe, effective, and appropriate contraception and birth control methods, and to protect residents’ right to know their options.
Nonetheless, sterilization quotas appear frequently in news reports from the area. In 2010, for example, Fengzhu Village exceeded its assigned quota with 29 operations among parents of two or more daughters.
In 2015, a net user complained on the website of Party newspaper People’s Daily, writing on its “Message Board for Local Leaders” to voice concerns over the county’s population control policies. In response, the Zhenxiong County government praised sterilization as an important and effective method. “As a big county with 1.5 million people,” it wrote, “the population pressure and burden is large.”
(Header image: Men on a motorbike pass in front of a family planning-related message painted on a wall in Yinan County, Shandong province, May 1, 2014. Wang Zirui/VCG)