Buzanap Osman, a mother of two in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, can have three children under China's birth control policy for ethnic groups. However, with the support of her husband she voluntarily had a sterilization operation recently.
The 36-year-old mother does not regret giving up the right to have a third child. "If I have more children, life gets more difficult and I won't have free time," she said. Currently, she is attending an agro-technical training course and takes part in physical and recreational activities whenever she is free.
Buzanap Osman lives in a village in Kashi Prefecture in Southern Xinjiang. Her husband is busy transporting dried fruit all the year round, earning an average of 30,000 yuan annually. Their elder son studies at a junior middle school and the younger one is at primary school.
Ayigul, Buzanap Osman's mother-in-law, endorses the young couple's decision.
"In the past, I kept to the traditional concept of 'The more children one has, the more happiness he will enjoy' and had 12 children. My husband had several diseases caused by overfatigue brought about by trying to raise such a large family. We were always short of money," she said.
China, the world's largest developing country with a population of over 1.2 billion, has the birth control policy as one of its fundamental state policies.
The Han, the most populous nationality in China, practices the "one child for one couple" policy. But the country's ethnic people are permitted to have two or three children because of their small population and because they live in frontier areas with harsh natural conditions.
Xinjiang, the home of 47 nationalities, has a population of 19 million, 60 percent of which is made up of ethnic people.
The majority of local residents had no concept of planned births before 1990 when the family planning policy was introduced to the region.
Over the past 11 years, the government has given wide publicity to the importance of family planning in China and has given widespread rudimentary information about birth control to married couples. At present, ethnic people in Xinjiang have accepted the concept of "having fewer but more healthy children" and appreciate the birth control policy. Many come to seek contraception guidance, said Eshan Ayup, director of the Regional Family Planning Commission.
According to regional statistics, 110,000 ethnic couples in Xinjiang have chosen to have two or three children. About 9,670 couples prefer to have only one child. The birth control rate in Xinjiang has climbed from 77 percent in 1990 to last year's 98 percent.
Niyaz, a woman of Kazak nationality in Karghalik County of Xinjiang, decided not to have any more children after giving birth to her only son.
"My parents bought me no new clothes before I got married because I have seven brothers and sisters. I had to stop my studies at 11 and did odd jobs to keep the family going," she said with tears in her eyes.
"Life is much better now. I want my son to be a university graduate. If possible, I will send him to study abroad. I think it is beneficial to both the state and my family to raise a man of high quality," she added.
Zhang Wenqing, secretary-general of the Xinjiang Population Society, said development of the market economy provides ample opportunity for ethnic women. They have extricated themselves from household chores and are playing an active role in political, economic and cultural fields.
Official statistics show Xinjiang had 297,000 women cadres in 2000, 57,000 more than the figure in 1995.
Ayup holds the view that the prosperity of a nation depends on the overall quality of its population rather than on its population growth. The substantial change in ethnic people's attitude to birth control will facilitate long-term social and economic progress in the region.
(People's Daily December 28, 2001)