Family de-planning: The coercive campaign to drive down indigenous birth-rates in XinjiangMay 01, 2021
Beginning in April 2017, Chinese Communist Party authorities in Xinjiang launched a series of “strike-hard” campaigns against “illegal births” with the explicit aim to “reduce and stabilise fertility at a moderate level” and decrease the birth-rate in southern Xinjiang by at least 4 children per thousand people from 2016 levels. This followed years of preferential exceptions from family-planning rules for indigenous nationalities.
The crackdown has led to an unprecedented and precipitous drop in official birth-rates in Xinjiang since 2017. The birth-rate across the region fell by nearly half (48.74 percent) in the two years between 2017 and 2019.
The largest declines have been in counties where Uyghur and other indigenous communities are concentrated. Across counties that are majority-indigenous the birth-rate fell, on average, by 43.7 percent in a single year between 2017 and 2018. The birth-rate in counties with a 90 percent or greater indigenous population declined by 56.5 percent, on average, in that same year.
In 2017, the Chinese government’s approach to birth control among minority nationalities shifted from “reward and encourage” towards a more coercive and intrusive policing of reproduction processes. Hefty fines, disciplinary punishment, extrajudicial internment, or the threat of internment were
introduced for any “illegal births.” Family-planning officials in Xinjiang were told to carry out “early detection and early disposal of pregnant women found in violation of policy”.
While the Chinese government argues it has adopted a uniform family-planning policy in Xinjiang, the county-level natality data suggests these policies are disproportionately affecting areas with a large indigenous population, meaning their application is discriminatory and applied with the intent of reducing the birth-rate of Uyghurs and other religious and ethnic minorities. This policy also stands in stark contrast to the loosening of birth control restrictions elsewhere in China.
Policy implementation documents from Xinjiang explicitly set birth-rate targets that are among the lowest in the world, and the birth-rate has declined from a rate similar to those in neighbouring countries such as Mongolia or Kazakhstan to only slightly higher than Japan, where the low birth-rate
is seen as a “national crisis”.
The sharp drop in birth-rates in Xinjiang (a region with a population of nearly 25 million) is proportionally the most extreme over a two-year period globally since 1950. Despite notable contextual differences, this decline in birth-rate is more than double the rate of decline in Cambodia at the height of the Khmer Rouge genocide (1975-79).