The Uyghur Genocide: Forced Sterilization to Exterminate the Uyghur People

In the Xinjiang region of China, authorities are sentencing tens of thousands of people to work in “re-education” camps, or labor camps. One of the main reasons cited for their sentence is that they are suspected of terrorist sentiments and extremism. Extremism can be determined by whether they abstain from drinking alcohol or have a beard. In these camps, the people are forced to do textile work for many companies such as Adidas, Nike, H&M, Tommy Hilfiger, BMW, and Gap.[1] In addition to this, China had instituted a program called, “Pair Up and Become Family” where government officials move into Uyghur homes to monitor the families for extremism. Although all types of Uyghur people are being deeply affected by these crimes against humanity, the Uyghur women are the most seriously targeted. Namely, in that they are forcibly sterilized in order to prevent future generations of Uyghur people from being born. These actions are considered genocide by countries such as the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands; the Chinese government wishes to “destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” which is the precise definition of genocide.[2]

The sterilization of the Uyghur women is being done in a systematic way. The first ones to be sterilized are those who have had three children already. Although these women are the first, they are by no means the last, and there is no Uyghur woman that is safe from sterilization. Tursunay Ziawudun, a woman who was in the internment camps, says that she saw many who were forcibly sterilised, “including a woman who was just about 20 years old.”[3] Adrian Zenz, an expert on the situation in China, also tells of “Zumrat Dawut [who] was offered ‘free’ surgical sterilization and threatened with internment if she refused. According to her Uyghur doctor, her tubal ligation sterilization procedure was done in the irreversible way (by cutting the tubes), and this was common for Xinjiang’s minorities.” Zenz also points out that “the region’s Muslim minorities are reticent towards such procedures—however, such sensibilities now matter little.”[4] Although their religious and cultural beliefs would prevent them from ever being sterilized, the Uyghur women in Xinjiang are being forced to undergo this horrific  procedure at unprecedented levels. 

These women are not only violated through forced sterilizations, butare also raped and abused in a variety of ways by police and concentration camp guards. In an interview with BBC, Ziawudan recounts her horrific experience of when she was kept in one of the camps. She tells about how women were taken from their cells nightly and “raped by one or more masked Chinese men.” She also details a form of sexual assault turned torture she experienced, saying, “The woman took me to the room next to where the other girl had been taken in. They had an electric stick, I didn’t know what it was, and it was pushed inside my genital tract, torturing me with an electric shock.” BBC also interviewed “a Kazakh woman from Xinjiang who was detained for 18 months in the camp system, who said she was forced to strip Uighur women naked and handcuff them, before leaving them alone with Chinese men. Afterwards, she cleaned the rooms.”[5] These are not nearly all the forms and accounts of the systematic rape, sexual assault, and torture that the Uyghur women are experiencing today, but they are able to highlight some of the cruelties in the camps.

The injustices extend beyond the control in the concentration camps and reach into the homes of the Uyghur people as well. This is mainly done through the “Pair Up and Become Family” program in the region, with reports of these Chinese government men forcibly sleeping in the same beds as the Uyghur women when the husband has been sent to a camp, and occasionally even when the husband is home.[6] In these situations, the “cadre” members are looking for any signs of “religious extremism” such as “growing ‘abnormal’ beards, wearing of veils in public places, and suddenly stopping smoking and drinking alcohol.”[7] If they find anything they deem to be extreme, then the people are sent to one of the concentration camps. Because of this dynamic, the women understand that if they deny the cadre member who wishes to sleep in their bed, then they will most likely be sent to one of the camps.

The Uyghur people, particularly the women, in China are experiencing a wide variety of abuses that have the intent of both breaking the spirit of the people as well as slowing and eventually halting their population growth. Ziawudan describes this experience in a poignant way. She describes how one of the women she knew in her time in the camp was tortured and came back as a shell of herself. Later on, she “saw her former cellmate collapsed on the street… The woman had been consumed by addiction.” Ziaduwan adds that she was “like someone who simply existed, otherwise she was dead, completely finished by the rapes. Their goal is to destroy everyone. And everybody knows it.”[8]

Sadly, not much is being done to help the Uyghur people in China. Those who have escaped have generally received support, but China has restrictions on aid and is currently denying that the events are happening. Actions that can be taken to help these people include spreading awareness and boycotting companies that use the textiles made by Uyghur detainees in the concentration camps.


[1] Save Uighur Staff. 2020. “83 Companies Linked to Uighur Forced Labor.” (October 4, 2021).

[2]“Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.” (October 4, 2021).

[3] Hill, Matthew, David Campanale, and Joel Gunter. 2021. “‘Their Goal Is to Destroy Everyone’: Uighur Camp Detainees Allege Systematic Rape.” BBC. (October 4, 2021).

[4] Zenz, Adrian. “Sterilizations, IUDs, and Mandatory Birth Control: The CCP’s Campaign to Suppress Uyghur Birthrates in Xinjiang.” (October 4, 2021).

[5] Hill, Matthew, David Campanale, and Joel Gunter. 2021. “‘Their Goal Is to Destroy Everyone’: Uighur Camp Detainees Allege Systematic Rape.” BBC. (October 4, 2021).

[6] Hoshur, Shohret. “Male Chinese ‘Relatives’ Assigned to Uyghur Homes Co-Sleep with Female ‘Hosts.’” 2019. Radio Free Asia. (October 4, 2021).

[7] “China (Includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) Human Rights Report.” (October 4, 2021).

[8] Hill, Matthew, David Campanale, and Joel Gunter. 2021. “‘Their Goal Is to Destroy Everyone’: Uighur Camp Detainees Allege Systematic Rape.” BBC. (October 4, 2021).

Additional References

2021. “Who Are the Uyghurs and Why Is China Being Accused of Genocide?” BBC. (October 4, 2021).

BBC News. 2020. “China Forcing Birth Control on Uighurs to Suppress Population, Report Says.” BBC. (October 4, 2021).

Issabayeva, Sofia. 2021. “Women Are Paying a High Price in China’s Uyghur Genocide.” (October 4, 2021).

Taras, Aisha. 2021. “Six Ways You Can Help Uyghur Muslims in China, Right Now.” Amaliah. (October 4, 2021).

Image Sources

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