Reform of One-Child Policy Falls Short, Leaves System Open to Abuse
November 15, 2013
“The Chinese government has finally responded to years of international and domestic criticism by announcing it will abolish Re-education Through Labor. This important step will only be meaningful if the government ensures what comes after it does not institute another system of detention without trial.”
Brad Adams, Asia Director

(New York) – The Chinese government should follow news that it will abolish the abusive Re-education Through Labor  system by announcing that it will not put in place another form of detention without trial, Human Rights Watch said today.

The November 15 announcement was part of a program of economic, financial, and legal reforms detailed in a 60-point document issued at the outcome of a major political conference of the Communist Party.

Other announcements at the Third Plenum of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee included a loosening of the one-child policy by allowing couples a second child if one of the parents was a single child; a plan to reduce the number of crimes warranting the death penalty; efforts to reduce forced confessions and wrongful convictions; and reforms that would make courts less subservient to local governments.

“The Chinese government has finally responded to years of international and domestic criticism by announcing it will abolish Re-education Through Labor,” said Brad Adams, Asia Director. “This important step will only be meaningful if the government ensures what comes after it does not institute another system of detention without trial.”

Laojiao, as the Re-education Through Labor system is known in Chinese, is in principle reserved for minor crimes that do not qualify for criminal punishment. But the police have also long used it as an expedient tool for suppressing dissent and incarcerating government critics, petitioners, whistle-blowers, rights activists, members of underground Christian churches or banned religious sects, and others deemed a “threat” to public order.

The Communist Party’s decision states that the government will “perfect laws on punishing and correcting criminal acts and improve community correction system.” According to the Ministry of Justice, community correction has been piloted across the country since 2009, while Community Correction Regulations were published in February 2012. A draft Community Correction Law has already been submitted to the State Council for review. The draft law has not yet been made public and it is unclear if it will allow detention and, if so, whether this would be allowed without trial and other due process guarantees, such as access to counsel.

Reports by state press suggest some Re-education Through Labor facilities have been converted to drug rehabilitation centers, an administrative system which also allows forced labor, in a number of provinces.


Changes to China’s “one child policy”

The decision also included a widely anticipated announcement that Chinese couples will be allowed two children if either parent was a single child. Couples are currently only allowed two children if they were both single children.

The step will allow more couples to have second children, but it does not change the foundations of China’s government-enforced family planning policy – which includes the use of legal and other coercive measures to control reproductive choices.

Chinese officials enforce birth quotas by requiring women to take regular gynecological exams, apply for permits before giving birth, insert intra-uterine devices or agree to sterilization after reaching the birth quota, and carry out abortions after the quotas are reached.

Those who fail to comply are punished. Forced abortions and sterilizations are regularly reported.  

“It would have been a major step if the Chinese government abolished the entire birth quota system and outlawed the use of coercion altogether,” Adams said. “While a step forward, the revised policy will still wrongly limit reproductive rights, and lead to abuses.”

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Kenneth Roth on PBS:


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