Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang (file photo) Photograph:( AFP )
In the northwest territory, official data shows birth rates have nearly halved between 2017 and 2019, the steepest drop of all Chinese provinces and regions in that time and the most extreme globally since 1950, according to an analysis by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI)
She was already beyond child-bearing age, but Qelbinur Sedik says Chinese authorities still forcibly sterilised her, part of what she describes as a systematic campaign to suppress births of Uyghurs and other minorities in the tense Xinjiang region.
In 2019, Sedik, then aged 50, says she begged authorities to spare her from being fitted with the compulsory IUD, as previous attempts resulted in severe pain and bleeding.
So, community workers gave her no choice but to be sterilised at a clinic in her home city of Urumqi, under threat of police action if she refused.
Upon returning home, she says she bled non-stop for several days.
"Why would they extend this to women aged over 50, who've gone through menopause and have no way of giving birth?" she told AFP from Holland, where she is seeking asylum.
Sedik, who still suffers from chronic pain and abnormal bleeding, is an ethnic Uzbek, one of the Turkic Muslim ethnic groups that live in Xinjiang.
In the northwest territory, official data shows birth rates have nearly halved between 2017 and 2019, the steepest drop of all Chinese provinces and regions in that time and the most extreme globally since 1950, according to an analysis by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).
After reaching Europe, Sedik said she was still in shock.
"I couldn't get out of bed for five months. I couldn't fall asleep. My daughter saw me crying every day," she recalls.
For decades, Xinjiang had some of China's highest birth rates, which led to rapid growth in the Uyghur population. Today, it is home to around 12 million mostly Muslim Uyghurs, who make up half the population.
Large numbers of 'illegal' births occurred outside strict birth limits, a maximum of three children for minorities in rural areas, as authorities seemingly turned a blind eye.
Now, the pendulum has swung the other way as Beijing seeks to exert control over what it views as unruly minorities in a strategic border region.
Scholars and rights advocates say ramped-up birth control policies since 2017, including arbitrary quotas for sterilisation and IUD insertion, and imprisonment for having too many children, are part of a deliberate, state-backed attempt to suppress ethnic minority births in Xinjiang.