ROME – As China appears to be considering relaxing its strict population control measures, American women’s rights activist Reggie Littlejohn has criticized the country for hypocrisy in encouraging Chinese families to have more children while forbidding Uyghur Muslims to do the same.

She also voiced doubt that China will completely do away with birth restrictions, insisting that the policies have been used not only for family planning but to keep a chokehold on the population through spying and by quashing dissent.

“Population control is social control masquerading as population control, and that’s why they have kept on it for so many decades beyond when it’s been useful for them,” Littlejohn told Crux, speaking of the Chinese Communist Party.

However, “they’ve dug themselves into a hole,” she said, noting that China faces a “terrible demographic tsunami” with an aging population and diminishing workforce.

Littlejohn is the founder of the “Women’s Rights Without Frontiers” organization, based in Towson, Maryland, and dedicated to fighting forced abortion and gendercide in China.

By 2050, around 35 percent of China’s population will be elderly, she said, meaning the average couple will have to care not only for aging parents and grandparents but possibly great-grandparents, while also working and trying to raise their own family.

“I certainly believe that the Chinese Communist Party should scrap all coercive birth control immediately, and I think that there’s a movement underfoot to do that,” Littlejohn said, noting that the suggestion of eliminating the two-child policy has come up recently in state sponsored newspapers.

Littlejohn said she is unsure if China would completely end all birth restrictions, but said that if they’re lightened, the child limit could be changed to three or four and penalties eliminated for families who have more than two children, such as the loss of jobs, hefty fines and forced abortions.

Decision makers, she said, are divided on the issue, “otherwise they would have done it already.”

On one hand, Littlejohn said she believes it will be hard for the Chinese Communist Party to admit “that they were wrong,” which could explain some the reluctance to loosen the two-child policy.

Another factor, she said, are the social compensation fees for violating the policy, which are “a big money-maker for the Communist Party.”

There’s also “the fact that the army of family planning police is a great infrastructure for them to quell dissent of any sort,” she said.

To this end, Littlejohn complained that while the government is considering relaxing birth restrictions to save the country’s infrastructure, it’s doubling down on the same policies among Uyghur Muslim communities in the autonomous northwestern region of Xinjiang.

With the Uyghurs, the Chinese government is “using population control as a form of genocide,” Littlejohn said. “They are trying to weaken and break the Uyghur people and one of their main tools is population control.”

China has long been criticized for persecution of the Uyghur population, largely through arbitrary detainment in mass internment camps.

According to Littlejohn, there are currently an estimated 900,000-1.8 million Uyghurs living in internment camps in Xinjiang, most for family planning violations.

“They are in a very, very unfair situation,” she said, noting that traditionally the Uyghurs have been allowed to have three children because of their minority status and because they live in the countryside. However, now families with three children are being fined, even though it was legal at the time the children were born.

Littlejohn cautioned that forced abortions and sterilizations are rampant, and that in some cases, the children are taken from their families are either put into orphanages or are detained in a separate area.

Another “utterly appalling” practice is that a husband will be arrested, and a Communist Party official will then move into his home with his wife and children and begin acting as head of the family.

“The intrusiveness of this is beyond imagination,” Littlejohn said, calling the treatment of Uyghurs “a form of slow, painful grinding genocide.”

“What are they going to do, get rid of coercive population control for the whole country except for Xinjiang? How’s that going to help their international image when they’re trying to project being a credible government?” she asked.

Another issue China will have to grapple with, she said, is that even families can now have two children, they are still opting for just one. Last year China had 14.5 million births, a four percent fall from 2018 and the lowest birth rate since 1961.

China is “desperate for births,” yet with costly education and poor maternity leave, many families can’t afford more than one child, especially if they are also caring for elderly relatives, Littlejohn said.

“What China needs to do is they need to institute incentives for people have more kids, like free education, better maternity leave, paternity leave, a cut in their taxes, whatever it takes to increase the population,” she said, noting that even if every family had a second child immediately, it would still be 20 years before they are able to enter the workforce.

“They’ve really dug themselves into a hole, and I don’t see how they’re going to get themselves out of it,” she said.

Littlejohn, whose organization also assists elderly widows, said another problem caused by population control is the abandonment of the elderly, who were once revered in Chinese culture, and are now seen as a burden.

In the past 20 years, senior suicide has increased 500 percent, Littlejohn said, noting that in some cases, families have pointed to suicide as something honorable for their elderly family members to do in order to save money on medical expenses.

Widows have also been denied government stipends due to their faith, she said, recalling how one widow her organization assists was confronted by government official who came to her home and, upon seeing images of Jesus Christ hung on her wall, demanded that she remove them in order to keep her stipend of $35 a month. The woman refused to take the images down and has since stopped receiving her monthly payment.

“Things are really desperate for seniors in China,” Littlejohn said, voicing disappointment that the issue of either relaxing or abolishing the two-child policy was not on the agenda for the National People’s Congress in May.

“How are they going to handle more than a third of the population not working, having health issues, etcetera?” she asked, adding, “This is the devastation of the one-child policy.”

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen