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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 4    Issue 06   01-15 August 2009

Chinese Crackdown on Uighur Muslims

Large-scale rioting broke out in a large market area of Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang province, on July 5 and lasted for several hours. A mob of more than a thousand Uighur Muslims took to the streets, throwing stones at the security forces, vandalizing shops and setting vehicles on fire. Riot police and military troops quickly moved in and locked down the Uighur quarter of the city. The clashes occurred when the police confronted a protest march held by Uighurs to demand an official investigation into a brawl between Uighur and Han Chinese workers that erupted in a toy factory in the city of Shaoguan in the southern Guangdon province on June 25-26, which left 2 Uighurs dead and 118 persons injured. The brawl was triggered by false rumours of the rape of some Han Chinese women by Uighur men.

The Urumqi riots took a toll of 184 lives, of whom 137 were Han Chinese, 46 were Uighurs and one was Hui. But the Uighurs say their own death toll was much higher. Following the violent protests, a counter-demonstration was held by the Han Chinese, in which people wielding clubs, iron bars and spades smashed the windows of Muslim shops and damaged cars.

Uighur Muslims

Chinese society is ethnically heterogeneous. The Han Chinese account for about 92 per cent of the population and dominate politics, economy and the administration. In addition, there are 55 distinct ethnic groups, officially designated as nationalities or national minorities, which comprise nearly 120 million people and constitute about 10% of the country’s population of 1.3 billion. Ten of the 55 national minorities follow Islam. The most important among Muslim minority groups are Hui (9 million), Uighur (8 million), and Kazakh (1.2 million). The other Muslim communities are Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Tatar, Salar, Bonan, Tajik and Dongxiang. The Hui, who comprise about half of the Muslim population in China, are distributed across large parts of the country. They are the descendants of Arab, Central Asian and Persian merchants who began arriving and settling in China since the 7th century. They married local Chinese women, which resulted in their gradual assimilation into Chinese society. The Uighur, Kazakh and Kirghiz Muslims, on the other hand, have substantially retained their original languages and cultural traditions. Their largest concentration is in Xinjiang, which encompasses about one-sixth of China’s territory and is officially described as an autonomous region. Xinjiang is rich in gas, minerals and farm produce and is the doorway to China’s trade and energy ties with Central Asia. The Uighurs and Kazakh speak variants of Turkic languages and share substantial cultural and religious traditions with the Muslims of Central Asia.

The Uighur Muslims left an impress of their culture and accomplishments on Chinese arts, crafts, languages and literary traditions. During the Mongol period, Ali Yahya Uighuri served as the defence minister. The Uighur Muslims played a highly important role in the spread of Islam in northern China. Most of them are now concentrated in the province of Xinjiang, which borders eight countries. Xinjiang is home to about 19.6 million people, around 8 million of whom are Uighurs.

Though the Chinese constitution guarantees freedom of religion, in reality few have the liberty to practise their faith as they would like to. This is specially the case with Chinese Muslims. During the past several decades China has carried out a policy of brutal repression and persecution of Uighur Muslims, as a result of which thousands of them have fled the country and taken refuge in Central Asia as well as in the US and Europe. The Uighurs, unlike the Hui Muslims, have scrupulously safeguarded their religious and ethnic identity.

In the 1990s, when the Soviet Union was breaking up and its Central Asian republics were declaring independence, China feared that Xinjiang, which shares borders with Central Asia and had a Muslim majority, might secede from China. In order to forestall this possibility, the Chinese authorities embarked on a calculated policy of migration of Han Chinese into Xinjiang. As a result of the planned migration of Han Chinese to Xinjiang, the proportion of Uighurs in the region’s population has shrunk from 75 per cent in 1949 to 45 per cent today. The Han Chinese now form the majority (more than 70 per cent) of Urumqi’s population of 2.3 million.

Mr Wang Lequan, the Communist Party secretary and absolute power in Xinjiang for the past 15 years, introduced modernization in the region. He opened the region’s oil and gas fields to drilling, laid pipelines east to the Chinese heartland and west to Kazakhstan. Lured by rising employment opportunities, Han Chinese workers flocked to Xinjiang. During the 1990s, about 2 million Han migrated to the region. Xinjian has undoubtedly developed, but large numbers of people, especially Uighurs, are still living in poverty. Ilham Tohti, an Uighur economics professor at the Central Nationalities University in Beijing, points out that 1.2 million workers migrated to Xinjiang from other parts of the country in 2008. “This indicates that there are abundant opportunities in Xinjiang, but why are these opportunities not for Uighurs,” he asks. Tohti emphasizes that unemployment remains the single biggest problem among Uighurs. Unemployment among Uighurs, according to him, is one of the highest in the world.

Mr Wang Lequan also carried out a policy of de-ethnicization of Uighur Muslims. He substituted Mandarin for Uighur in primary schools, saying that minority languages were “out of step with the 21st century,” and banned or restricted Islamic symbols and practices (including the Islamic veil, beards and praying and fasting while on the job) among government workers.

China has been accused by two US-based human rights organizations, Human Rights Watch and Human Rights in China, of conducting a “crushing campaign of religious repression against Muslim Uighurs”. This campaign is ostensibly carried out in the name of anti-separatism and counter-terrorism. The repressive measures of the government range from surveillance of imams and forced closure of mosques to the detention of thousands of people and executions. The curriculum of Islamic educational institutions is required to be approved by the authorities. Imams have to attend political education camps. Religious literature has to be screened and approved by the authorities before circulation. In the wake of 9/11, thousands of Uighur men were imprisoned on trumped-up charges of terrorism and religious extremism. East Turkestan Islamic Movement, the main religious and cultural organization of Uighurs in Xinjiang, has been declared a terrorist group by both China and the US. There have been frequent protests and demonstrations by Uighur Muslims against the repressive and discriminatory policies pursued by the Chinese authorities. According to Amnesty International, some 3,000 Uighurs have been arrested and 22 executed since the mid-1990s.

Rebiya Kadeer

China has accused Uighur separatists of fomenting unrest in the region. It has held Rebiya Kadeer, a Uighur human rights advocate who now lives in the US, responsible for instigating the Urumqi riots. Kadeer was once a successful businesswoman in Xinjiang and was a member of the government’s highest consultative body in the province. She fell out of favour when her husband, who was a former political prisoner, fled the country and sought political asylum in the US in 1999. Rebiya Kadeer was accused of anti-national activities because she sent newspaper clippings to her husband in the US about the persecution of Uighurs in China. She was detained in 2000 and, after five years of torture, was finally released in 2005. She has now taken asylum in the US and has founded the Uighur American Association and the World Uighur Congress. “It is easy for the government to say that Uighurs are terrorists, because they are Muslims. Many Uighurs have been falsely persecuted for this,” she says.

China believes that economic development and prosperity will erase ethnic and religious distinctions and that its people will accept the growth-for-freedom trade-off. The undercurrents of resentment and resentment in the country that have been gathering strength over the years belie this expectation and judgement. The Tibetans have long resented the domination of the Han majority and the tyranny of the communist government. The Falun Gong movement has persistently resisted the tyrannical policies of the government for years. Tens of millions of Chinese Christians face repression and severe censorship. An increasing number of Chinese youth are frustrated by restrictions placed by the authorities on their freedom. Thanks to globalization and the international media, the fissures in Chinese society are becoming increasingly evident.

Fresh Evidence of Israel’s War Crimes in Gaza

On December 27, 2008 Israeli jets, unmanned drones and helicopters launched a massive offensive on Gaza, resulting in the death of some 350 Palestinians and the massive destruction of ministry buildings, refugee camps, schools, workshops and children’s parks. On January 6, a raid on a United Nations school that was used as a shelter for hundreds of Palestinians who had fled from their homes in the northern Gaza town of Jabaliya, killed 40 people. The Israeli forces also used white phosphorus, a highly injurious substance, during the onslaught. Dozens of Palestinians burned by phosphorus succumbed to their injuries. Amnesty International says some 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the 22-day Israeli offensive between December 27, 2008 and January 11, 2009. More than 900 of them were civilians, including 300 children and 115 women.

The 117-page report by Amnesty International says many of the hundreds of civilian deaths in the conflict “cannot simply be dismissed as ‘collateral damage incidental to otherwise lawful attacks’ or as mistakes”. It says “disturbing questions” remain unanswered as to why children playing on roofs and medical staff attending the wounded were killed by “highly accurate missiles” whose operators had detailed views of their targets. The document gives details of several cases where people—including women and children posing no threat to troops—were shot at close range as they were fleeing their homes in search of shelter. Lives were lost because Israeli forces “frequently obstructed access to medical care”. The destruction of homes, businesses and public buildings was in many cases “wanton and deliberate” and “could not be justified on the grounds of military necessity,” the report adds. “All of those things occurred on a scale that constitutes pattern—and constitutes war crimes,” Donatella Rovera, who headed the research, said.

Civilian institutions bore the brunt of the onslaught. According to the UN, the Israeli offensive damaged or destroyed more than 50,000 houses, 800 industrial properties, 200 schools, 39 mosques and two churches. The losses are estimated to exceed $ 2 billion. UN Secreatry-General Ban Ki-moon has asked for more than $11 million in compensation from Israel for damage to UN property in Gaza.

The Israeli army has persistently denied its involvement in war crimes during the Gaza offensive. Now, a human rights organisation called “Breaking the Silence,” founded by Israeli veterans, has collected 30 damning testimonies from Israeli soldiers who took part in the onslaught on Gaza in January this year. The organization seeks to “expose the Israeli public to the routine situations of everyday life in the occupied territories”. Although the organization has collected hundreds of testimonies from ex-soldiers before, this is the first time that it has done so from serving soldiers so soon after the events they describe.

The common thread in the testimonies is that orders were given to prevent Israeli casualties, whatever the cost in Palestinian lives. Michael Sfard, an Israeli lawyer, says in the report, “All the witnesses agreed that they received a particular order repeatedly, in a way that did not leave much room for doubt, to do everything, everything, so that they (Israel Defence Forces) would not be harmed. The soldiers tell in their testimonies how this unwritten message, which came from brigade, battalion and company commanders in morale-building conversations before entering Gaza, translated into zero patience for the life of enemy civilians. Violations of the laws of war are liable to be war crimes”.

In some cases, Israeli troops used civilians as human shield, a clear breach of the international laws of war. The Israeli Supreme Court outlawed the so-called “neighbour policy” of using Palestinians to shield advancing troops in 2005. The report reveals that Palestinian houses were systematically destroyed by “insane artillery firepower”. One battalion commander is reported to have said, “Not a hair will fall to allow a soldier of mine to risk himself by hesitating. If you are not sure, shoot”. One soldier said his brigade commander and other officers made it clear that “any movement must entail gunfire”. The report describes in substantial detail the killing of at least two civilians, the vandalism, looting and wholesale destruction of Palestinian houses and the use of white phosphorus. One Israeli soldier said his unit commander shot dead an old man hiding with his family under the stairs of a house. The Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard said the report showed that the Gaza operation violated the “number one principle in international laws of war: that of distinguishing between the civilian population and combatants”.

Military rabbis encouraged the soldiers to use gunfire recklessly. One soldier said an army rabbi had “aimed at inspiring the men with courage, cruelty, aggressiveness, saying ‘no pity. God protects you. Everything you do is sanctified’. Letters distributed at military synagogues had stated that “the Palestinians are like the Philistines of old, newcomers who do not belong in the land, aliens planted on the soil which should clearly return to us”.

Mortars were widely deployed. They included 120mm mortars of the sort that killed up to 40 civilians outside the UN school in Jabalya which was being used as a shelter, and in a nearby house. Houses that Israeli troops occupied were vandalized. One testimony stated: “One of the soldiers….opened the child’s bag, took out notebooks and ripped them. One guy smashed cupboards for kicks out of boredom”.

Commenting on the report, The Independent (15 July, 2009) wrote: “The reports amount to the most formidable challenge by Israelis since the Gaza war to the military’s own considered view that it conducted the operation according to international law and made “an enormous effort to focus its fire only against the terrorists while doing the utmost to avoid harming uninvolved civilians”.

Germany’s Four Million Muslims

Estimates of the number of Muslims living in Europe range between 25 and 30 million. The largest concentration of Muslims is in France, home to more than five million of them. The second largest Muslim population in the continent is in Germany where, according to an earlier estimate, 3.4 million Muslims live. A new study commissioned by Germany’s Interior Ministry and Islam Conference has revealed that between 3.8 and 4.3 million Muslims live in the country, making up around 5 per cent of the total population.

The study also reveals that Germany’s Muslims are much more integrated than previously thought. Around half of them are German citizens. More than half of Germany’s Muslims are members of a club or association, sports clubs, unions and associations for senior citizens. Almost two-thirds of German Muslims are of Turkish origin. Others have come from Balkan countries such as Bosnia and Albania, Middle East and North Africa. The study also found that the majority of Muslims consider themselves religious.

A disturbing finding of the study is that the Muslim community in Germany has a disproportionately high number of school drop-outs, unemployed and poor people—particularly among immigrants of Turkish descent.

Germany’s Interior Minister Wolfgang Schauble said the situation of Muslims in Germany had improved in recent years, partly as a result of the dialogue with the Muslim community. “Muslims feel more comfortable and more accepted here in Germany today. The non-Muslim part of our society has better understood that Islam is a part of our country and not a threat but in fact it enriches our society”.

Islamic Haute Couture, designed in Europe

Muslim women in the Middle East generally don what are known as abayas: body-covering black robes, which are usually accompanied by headscarves. Now well-known international designers like Christian Dior, Nina Ricci, Jean Claude Jitrois, Blumarine and Alberta Feretti have undertaken a makeover of the abaya to cater to the tastes of rich clients in the Middle East.

A fashion show with models clad in Islamic gowns was held on June 25, 2009 at the George V Hotel in Paris, where a fairly wide variety of ready-to-wear versions of the abaya were showcased. The designer outfits are expected to go on sale in Saks stores in the cities of Jeddah and Riyadh in September this year and subsequently in Bahrain and Dubai.

Fashionable garments for men and women, inspired by Islamic traditions and cultural patterns, are now being designed by international designers in Europe.

Growing Popularity of Sharia Courts in the UK

Under Britain’s 1996 Arbitration Act, alternative forums like tribunals can function as official courts of arbitration in the consensual resolution of civil disputes such as divorce or inheritance. There are nearly 180,000 Orthodox Jews living in Britain. They have their own Beth Din or rabbinical courts, which have been in existence for more than a century. Rabbinical courts, run under the authority of Britain’s Chief Rabbi, are voluntary and subordinate to the overarching British legal system. A Jewish couple who wish to divorce have to do so in civil courts. They will then turn to the rabbinical courts to secure a divorce in religious law on top of their legal divorce. “People often come to us for reasons of speed, cost and secrecy”, said David Frei, registrar of the London Beth Din.

Islamic tribunals

There are nearly 1.8 million Muslims living in Britain. By and large, they have maintained their religious and cultural identities, which are reinforced by a wide network of mosques, Islamic schools, community organisations and Islamic courts. Loosely structured arbitration councils, sometimes described as Islamic or Shariah courts, have been in existence in Britain over the past two decades. Under Britain’s 1996 Arbitration Act, Islamic tribunals or councils can give rulings which can be enforced by county and High Courts. The Islamic Arbitration Council in Leyton is one of the oldest and largest Islamic tribunals in the country. It has been quietly engaged in resolving civil disputes since 1982 and has dealt with more than 7,000 divorce cases.

A large majority of cases brought before Islamic tribunals involve women asking for divorce on grounds of ill-treatment, domestic violence and torture by their husbands. Other cases involve disputes over inheritance and property. If a wife wants a divorce and the husband refuses, the Islamic tribunal can grant her unilateral request to dissolve the marriage, after exploring avenues of reconciliation. Sometimes cases are brought in from Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands and Germany. The tribunals stay away from criminal cases.

Islamic arbitration councils are becoming increasingly popular across large parts of Britain. Offices of the Muslim Arbitration Council, the country’s largest apex body, are now operating in London, Bradford, Manchester, Birmingham and Nuneaton, with more planned for Glasgow and Edinburgh. The cases brought before local tribunals are sometimes referred to an apex body of law experts and scholars at London’s central mosque for final arbitration and judgement. The committee meets once a month. Since the Muslim population of Britain is ethnically diverse with different national backgrounds, arbitration procedures are coordinated through representatives of different ethnic communities.

British government has accorded a tacit but guarded approval to Islamic tribunals in the country. In October 2008, Jack Straw, the justice minister, said that “There is nothing whatever in English law that prevents people abiding by Shariah principles if they wish to, provided they do not come into conflict with English law”. He added that “British law would always remain supreme and that “regardless of religious belief, we are all equal before the law”. Baroness Warsi, the Muslim Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion and Social action, said that there were many forums for arbitration and alternative dispute resolution in Britain. “There is no problem with that, as long as it is always subject to English law”.

Sharia Courts and Non-Muslims

According to a report in The Times (July 21, 2009), an increasing number of non-Muslims in the UK are turning to the Muslim Arbitration Tribunals (MAT)—generally known as Sharia courts--for the resolution of civil disputes. It is reported that five per cent of the cases that were brought before the MAT involved non-Muslims. In a case last month, a non-Muslim Briton took his Muslim business partner to the MAT to arbitrate in a dispute over the profits in their car fleet company. The tribunal gave its verdict in favour of the Briton and asked his Muslim partner to pay him £ 48,000. This year the tribunal adjudicated in at least 20 cases involving non-Muslims.

Archbishop Williams on Sharia Courts

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams suggested in February 2008 that there could be a “plural jurisdiction” in the UK in which Muslims could freely decide whether they wanted to have their family disputes resolved in secular courts or through Islamic legal institutions which offer an alternative forum for arbitration. He pleaded for “transformative accommodation”, which would incorporate features of alternative legal cultures in the country. The Archbishop pointed out that certain provisions of Islamic Shariah are already recognised in British society and under British law. He said some aspects of Islamic personal law relating to marriage could be included in the British legal system as a way to accommodate Muslims who did not defer to British law. What he seemed to suggest was that the secular legal system should accommodate the Shariah councils, which exist around the country, for dealing with family matters. This move, he suggested, would foster the integration of Muslims in the wider society.

The Archbishop opined that Shariah could play a role in “aspects of marital law, the recognition of financial transactions, and authorised structures of mediation and conflict resolution”. He clarified that his suggestion for the incorporation of some aspects of Islamic Shariah in the British legal system was confined to family law and that the question of introducing Islamic penal laws was unthinkable in the context of British society. Similarly he discounted the notion of parallel systems of law in the country.

Britain’s Chief Justice, Lord Philips of Worth Matravers, in a speech to the London Muslim Council on 3 July 2008, said there was “widespread misunderstanding of the nature of Shariah law” and added, “There is no reason why Shariah principles, or any other religious code, should not be the basis for mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution”. Lord Philips said he was willing to see Shariah laws operate in the country, so long as they did not conflict with the laws of England and Wales, or lead to the imposition of severe physical punishments”.

Supporting Archbishop Rowan Williams’ observations, Lord Philips said, “It is not very radical to advocate embracing Shariah law in the context of family disputes, for example, and our system already goes a long way towards accommodating the Archbishop’s suggestions”. He added, “It is possible in this country for those who are entering into a contractual agreement to agree that the agreement shall be governed by a law other than English law. Those who, in this country, are in dispute as to their respective rights, should be free to subject that dispute to the mediation of a chosen person or agree that the dispute shall be resolved by a chosen arbitrator or arbitrators”.

Lord Philips suggested that marital arrangements could be mediated through Shariah principles. He also supported the creation of specialist Shariah-compliant financial products and services, something the UK Treasury has acknowledged since 2002. Lord Philips clarified that he was not countenancing “any notion of Shariah courts operating in this country and seeking to impose such punishments”.

Stephen Hockman QC, one of Britain’s leading barristers and a former chairman of the Bar Council, suggested on 25 November 2008 that a group of parliamentarians, lawyers and religious leaders should be convened to plan how elements of Islamic law could be incorporated into Britain’s legal system. Mr Hockman told The Daily Express: “Given our substantial Muslim population, it is vital that we look at ways to integrate Muslim culture into out tradition. Otherwise we will find that there is a significant section of our society which is increasingly alienated, with very dangerous results”. He added that the incorporation of Shariah into the British legal system could improve relations between faith groups and boost the country’s security”.

Vodka and High Mortality Rate in Russia

A recent report published in The Lancet on June 26, 2009 has blamed the excessive consumption of alcohol for more than half of all deaths among Russians in their prime years and said that the scale of the tragedy is comparable to a war. The report said that three-quarters of deaths among men and half of deaths among women aged 15-54 were attributable to alcohol abuse. The mortality rate in Russia in this age group is five times higher for men and three times higher for women than in Western Europe. Professor David Zaridze, who led the international research team, calculated that alcohol had killed three million Russians since 1987. He added, “this is similar to that of a war”.

Life expectancy in Russia has slumped since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The average Russian man now lives a little more than 60 years, compared with 77 years for men in Western Europe. Russian women die on average at 73, nine years earlier than their European counterparts. The factors responsible for this high mortality rate, in addition to alcohol addiction, include poverty and loss of jobs, stress and a gnawing sense of insecurity. The study highlighted a doubling of alcohol consumption in seven years between 1987 and 1994 to about 10.5 litres annually per person. A report in 2007 by Gennadi Onishchenko, the Chief Public Health Officer, said that Russians were drinking the equivalent of 15 litres of pure alcohol each year. The report said that almost 30,000 people died annually from alcohol poisoning and that at least 2.3 million people in the country were alcoholics.

Rethinking China’s One-Child Policy

China is the most populous country in the world. Its current population is 1.3 billion, more than one-sixth of the total global population. Alarmed by the country’s escalating population growth, Chine authorities in the 1970s began emphasizing such methods as delayed marriages, intervals between births and fewer children to reduce high fertility rates. As a result, China’s total fertility rate—the number of children a woman is expected to have in her lifetime—was reduced from over five to slightly over two.

In 1979, Chinese government began enforcing a radical policy to curb population growth by allowing couples to have just one child. The aim of the one-child policy was not only to arrest population growth but also to provide better education, nutrition and healthcare to children. Couples have to pay heavy fines if they have a second child. It is estimated that, as a result of the one-child policy, some 400 million births have been prevented. The country’s current population growth rate is 0.7%.

The policy makes some exceptions in the case of ethnic minorities (which comprise about 10% of the country’s population) and families in rural areas. Nearly 53% of Chinese people live in rural areas, where couples are allowed to have a second child if the first one is a girl. Furthermore, couples who have no siblings are allowed to have a second child. As the accompanying graphic shows, nearly 36% of the population have one child while 53% have two children (because the first child happens to be a girl). About 10% people have defied the existing policy and have two children, and a miniscule minority (1.6%) has more than two children (largely due to the use of fertility drugs).

Demographers point out that in order to maintain the population at a stable level, a fertility rate of 2.1 births per woman is required. China’s current fertility rate is between 1.7 and 1.8 births per woman, well below the ideal level. China’s one-child policy has given rise to a set of demographic, social, economic and psychological problems. The sex ratio is becoming unbalanced. Males now outnumber females by more than 60 million. In the province of Hainan, there are 100 girls for 135 boys.

Like most Asian countries, Chinese parents have a clear preference for the male child, who is expected to look after them in their old age. Abortion of female fetuses is widespread in the country. It is estimated that nearly 90% of fetuses aborted in the country are female. A large number of female babies are handed over to orphanages. Boys far outnumber girls in schools and colleges. The number of young men who are unable to find wives is steadily increasing. According to an official estimate, by 2020 there may be some 30 million men of marriageable age who will not be able to find wives. In a small village in China’s tropical island of Hainan, there are more than a hundred men aged between 18 and 40 who are unmarried, unable to find a wife. A number of villages are faced with the same problem.

The population of the elderly is growing in the country, thanks to increased life expectancy and better healthcare facilities. In the next few years, China will have 400 million elderly people. There are few people of working age to support the growing number of elderly dependents. Before the era of economic reforms and liberalization, almost everyone in towns and cities worked for a state-run company, which provided benefits such as healthcare and housing. With privatization these benefits have largely been withdrawn, placing greater responsibility on younger people. Economic hardships and the search for better prospects lead large numbers of young people to migrate to cities, making elderly parents and other relatives more vulnerable. As extended families are crumbling, a growing number of elderly people turn to old age homes. Many schools are being converted into old age homes.

A particularly worrisome consequence of the one-child policy is the growing shortage of labour and workforce in factories and establishments. This problem is becoming acute as China has opened the gates of globalization and as the demand for the supply of labour has greatly expanded. In less than 10 years the size of the labour force in the country is likely to start declining so that one of China’s economic advantages may disappear.

There is a growing resentment in China against the one-child policy. There have been occasional protests and demonstrations against the policy in some towns. During the parliamentary session in March 2007, 29 members of the Chinese Peoples’ Political Consultative Conference (a government advisory body) suggested that couples be allowed to have two children. However, this suggestion was turned down by the authorities. Some families have tried to get round the one-child policy by taking recourse to fertility drugs—which are quite cheap and easily available—which enable them to have twins or even triplets. In recent years, there has been a huge increase in the number of twins in many villages.

After decades of enforcing the one-child policy, officials in Shanghai are urging eligible couples to have children amid concerns over an ageing population. Family planning officers and social workers will make home visits and slip leaflets under doorways to encourage couples to have a second child if both of them are the only children of their parents.

Shanghai’s over 60 population already exceeds 3 million, making up 21.6 per cent of the city’s residents. The number of couples in Shanghai eligible to have two children rose from 4,600 in 2005 to 7,300 in 2008. Currently the fertility rate in Shanghai is 0.88, compared with 1.8 in the country.

As the demographic, economic, social and psychological problems and consequences arising from China’s one-child policy are becoming increasingly evident, Chinese authorities will be forced to rethink the policy.

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