China is forcing its minority Uighur population to use birth control on a larger scale than previously known, according to a new study released on Monday.
The campaign of forced sterilizations and family separation has led to a sharp drop in the Uighur birthrate in Xinjiang province, especially in the westernmost regions of Hotan and Kashgar. Xinjiang saw births drop from almost 16 per 1,000 residents in 2017 to 10.7 per 1,000 in 2018, according to Chinese government statistics cited by the Associated Press. In Hotan and Kashgar, the birth rate in 2015 was almost 22 per 1,000; by 2018, however, that rate had fallen to just 8 per 1,000.
“Documents from 2019 reveal plans for a campaign of mass female sterilization in rural Uyghur regions, targeting 14 and 34 percent of all married women of childbearing age in two Uyghur counties that year,” reads the study by scholar Adrian Zenz, a China studies fellow at the Jamestown Institute. (Zenz was a leading analyst of documents leaked from the Chinese government last year, revealing in detail the system of concentration camps China uses to “reeducate” Uighur citizens.)
“This campaign likely aims to sterilize rural minority women with three or more children, as well as some with two children—equivalent to at least 20 percent of all childbearing-age women,” Zenz writes. “By 2019, Xinjiang planned to subject at least 80 percent of women of childbearing age in the rural southern four minority prefectures to intrusive birth prevention surgeries (IUDs or sterilizations), with actual shares likely being much higher.”
Zenz concludes that the actions taken by the Chinese government meet at least one criteria of the United Nations definition of genocide, namely the prevention of births within the targeted group.
Chinese ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the reports of sterilization campaigns were “fabricated” and “fake news,” when asked about the issue at a press conference.
“Everyone, regardless of whether they’re an ethnic minority or Han Chinese, must follow and act in accordance with the law,” Zhao said.