When Chen Guangcheng entered the Grand Committee Room in the House of Commons last night, the whole room rose to its feet and applauded. He was there to receive the Westminster Award for the Promotion of Human Life, Human Rights and Human Dignity. But first he told his story through his interpreter.
Chen, the blind Chinese human rights activist who escaped house arrest last year, said that those lucky enough to live in a liberal democracy were residing in a kind of flower house where they gradually take for granted the beautiful aroma. But for the oppressed people of China, “the state can rob you of your life and your body,” he told us.
Most Catholics know that Chen has been instrumental in exposing the brutal implementation of the one-child policy in China, which has resulted in coercive abortions and forced sterilisation. But his first-hand testimony really illuminated the reality of the authorities’ barbarism – so much so, that I saw tears in the eyes of grown men who listened in horror.
Chen’s interpreter struggled through tears to translate Chen’s story of a woman who was arrested and pleaded on her knees to be allowed to go and feed her three-year-old child before she was detained. Her request was ignored and the toddler, despite attempts to break through the doors and windows of her house, leaving tiny footprints of blood, eventually collapsed from exhaustion and lay starving to death. She was found 21 days later when the neighbours noticed the rotting stench coming from the nearby house.
Chen said that in his city alone in one year some 120,000 to 130,000 forced abortions and sterilisations have occurred. Some of these abortions took place when the mother was at term. Many of the family members of the women involved were then tortured and intimidated by the Chinese authorities. Chen was quick to emphasise that these abortions were not voluntary. Chen is not just champion of the unborn child; he is also a fierce champion of women’s rights and dignity.
Thank God, the moment it emerged that sex-selective abortions were taking place here in Britain prominent feminists angrily denounced the practice. They appeared on Radio 4, criticising the coercion which some pregnant women must feel if they resort to aborting their baby just because she’s a girl. They were delighted that the Health Secretary launched an investigation into these alleged practices.
At least I am sure deep down they were. Their deafening silence was probably just stunned horror.