China forces birth control on Uyghur Community: violation of International Law Principles

By Divyanshu Gupta

It's Not Only about Illegal Migration & International Law: The Uighur  Conundrum


In a recent report prepared by Adrian Zenz titled The CCP’s Campaign to Suppress Uyghur Birthrates in Xinjiang’, it has come to light that China is forcing Uyghur women, a Muslim ethnic minority population in Xinjiang, to be sterilized and take birth control measures to curb its population. Adrian Zenz is the world’s leading scholar on the People’s Republic of China (PRC) government policies towards the country’s western regions of Tibet and Xinjiang& in his report, he alleged that Uyghur women are threatened & detained in the internment camps on refusal to abort pregnancies that exceed birth quotas. Before relaxing China’s one nation policy in 2015, it was common practice for minority groups including Uyghurs to have children above state-mandated limits. However, in July 2017, the family planning policy in Xinjiang was changed. Previously, urban Han Chinese, (a majority ethnic group in China) was permitted to have one child, while urban minorities could have two. Rural residents were allowed one additional child: two for rural Han, and three for rural minorities. The new family planning policy removed this ethnic distinction, permitting the Han Chinese to have the same number of children as the minorities, while leaving the urban-rural distinction and minority’s birth quota unchanged.

Further, the report showed that authorities regularly subject Uyghur women to pregnancy checks, forceful insertion of intrauterine devices, sterilization, and even abortion. Experts have coined the term ‘demographic genocide’ for this activity of China.  In this context, this blog will analyze the sterilization and birth control measures adopted by China, as a gross violation of human rights. It will also assess the act of mass rape and birth control measures against Uyghur women as an act the crime of genocide under International Criminal Law.

Forced Birth Control and Human Rights Violations

The practice of forced sterilization and abortion has involved serious human rights violations. Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “No one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Uyghur women are detained in internment camps for exceeding birth quota limits and are offered “free” surgical sterilization. In these internment camps, they are forced to adopt long-term birth control measures and are subjected to torture and inhuman treatment. In the case of I.V. v Bolivia, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights held that sterilization without informed consent is a human right violation, including inhumane treatment, liberty, due process, honor and dignity, private and family life, freedom of expression, judicial protection and access to a remedy. Similarly, in 2017, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights in its General Comment No. 4 established that forced sterilization is an act of sexual violence that amounts to inhuman treatment. Therefore, adopting birth control measures on Uyghur women without their consent is a cruel and inhuman treatment that violates article 5 of the UDHR.

Further, several Uyghur female detainees in internment camps have been injected with Depo-Provera drugs that disrupt the menstrual cycle, cause increased bleeding, or decreases sex drive. Injecting drugs to decrease sexual drive and menstrual period on Uyghur women can affect their health system in the long run. The primary objective is to prevent the pregnancy of Uyghur women. This is a violation of Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which provides for everyone’s right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being. It also violates right to health of Uyghur women under Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The act also transgresses Article 16(1)  i.e. right to form a family. While Han Chinese, an ethnic minority in China is now allowed to have more than two children after the formulation of new family policy, Uyghur women are detained and forced to adopt birth control measures. It violates the right of Uyghur women to form a family.

Forced Birth Control Constitutes an Act of Genocide

Forced birth control practices constitutes an act of genocide defined under the Article 2(d) of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide that states that any act committed with an intention to wholly or partly destroy ethnic, racial or religious group by adopting and imposing birth control measures. Similarly, Article 6(d) of the Rome Statute states that “genocide” means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group. To establish the crime of genocide, the intent is necessary to determine whether the act constitutes the crime of genocide or not. In Prosecutor v Jean-Paul Akayesu,  it was held that “methods of preventing births within a specific group forced sterilization, abortion, or birth control measures that depict an effort to affect the ethnic composition is an attack on the reproduction and the intent to commit genocide.” Similarly, the United States Military Tribunal held that sterilization and other measures aimed at restricting births, is qualified as genocide. This is also contemplated as a crime against humanity of forced sterilization under Article 7(1) (g) of the Rome Statute.

This can be ascertained from the fact that in 2018, 80 percent of all new intrauterine device (IUD) placements in China were performed in Xinjiang, even though the region only accounts for 1.8 percent of the nation’s Uyghur population. The population growth in Xinjiang comprising the Uyghur minority community has declined dramatically. Demographic growth rates have fallen by 84 percent in the two largest Uyghur prefectures between 2015 and 2018, and declined further in 2019. For 2020, one Uyghur region set an unprecedented near-zero population growth targets. This indicates the population growth in Xinjiang is depressed as a result of draconian new birth prevention measures. Therefore, with such a sharp decline in population rate of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang, it can be concluded that the Chinese authorities intend to wipe out the ethnic (Uyghur Muslims) minority group by imposing measures intended to prevent birth within the groups. The slash in the birth rate among Uyghurs is to curb the Muslim population from China. Forced sterilization methods could constitute genocide when committed with the requisite intent to destroy a particular group in whole or in part.

Act of Mass rape as Genocide on Uyghur Women

Several Uyghur activists have claimed that China has started the “Pair Up and Become Family Program” and according to this program, Han Chinese men are sent to live and marry with Uyghur women, many of whose husbands have been sent to internment camps. This constitutes an act of mass rape against Uyghur women and violatesArticle 7(1)(g) of the Rome Statute i.e. crime against humanity of rape. Further, Uyghur women are also raped and sexually abused in the internment camps. Therefore, this becomes an act of destruction when it involves the use of gang rape, sexual torture, rape camps and forced impregnation. These acts are done with an object of ethnic cleansing and constitute an act of genocide. Thus, rape and other forms of gender violence constitute genocide when committed with the requisite intent.


Birth control measures on the Uyghur minority are a part of China’s campaign to spread the dominant Han Chinese culture by eliminating minorities. Forceful sterilization, torture, rape and other forms of inhumane treatment have accelerated the disparity in the Uyghur and Han population growth rate and are leading to a drastic decline in the population of the Uyghur community. Birth control practices meet one of the criteria of the United Convention on genocide and the genocide defined in the Rome Statute i.e. preventing birth control measures within a group. The action of the China has been condemned by many countries such as Britain, USA etc. across the world in the United Nations and they have demanded from the Chinese Government to comply with the international obligations on human rights and allow UN human rights monitors access to detention centers. The broader human rights situation in Xinjiang is of ongoing and serious concern in the international community.

Hence, the timely intervention of the International Community to establish a fact-finding mission or a commission of inquiry to consider the evidence of the atrocities perpetrated against the Uyghur Muslims can help in preventing the atrocities adopted by China.

[The Author is a 4th year law student at Symbiosis Law School, Pune.]


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