Feng Jianmei was forced abort her seven-month foetus / Rex Features

The one-child policy is widely hated in China, and there is growing pressure to abandon it

A family forced to abort a seven-month-old foetus to meet China's controversial one-child policy has been branded as traitors for going to the foreign media, and there are fears the police have detained the father.

Feng Jianmei was abducted from her home by five men from the local family planning clinic and forced to have an abortion earlier this month. Graphic photos of Ms Feng lying in her hospital bed with the bloodied foetus beside her caused widespread shock in China and reopened the debate over the rule limiting couples to one child.

Three officials were suspended from duty a day after the scandal was exposed, but the controversy continues to fester. The family, who live in Zengjia Town in the northern province of Shaanxi, say they are being harassed, followed by local officials and thugs, and beaten.

Ms Feng's husband Deng Jiyuan, 29, is missing. He had called to say he was safe but there was no indication of his whereabouts.

Photographs circulating online show scenes eerily reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution, a period of ideological frenzy in the 1960s and 1970s which destroyed millions of lives. In the street, protesters carry banners with slogans saying "Beat traitors and drag them out" and "Expel them from Zengjia".

While the local government denies involvement, there is a suspicion of official involvement in what looks like an organised campaign against the family. While local officials seethe at the family, more broadly within China, the case has generated a lot of sympathy.

The 22-year-old Ms Feng had failed to pay a hefty 40,000-yuan (£4,025) fine for exceeding the terms of the strict population control policy, which was introduced more than 30 years ago and requires couples to limit their family to one child, with some exceptions.

Mr Deng spoke at the time of how his wife almost killed herself out of panic. He told of how Ms Feng had been blindfolded and forced to sign an agreement to have the abortion.

A web commentator from Henan wrote on Sina Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, that the family was only protecting its rights. "How can they become traitors? Maybe they were harming officials' interests. It's ridiculous, the people with the banners, and those who did the forced abortion, are idiots."

There are exceptions to the one-child policy – those from some ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and rural families can give birth to two children if the first is a girl. In some cities, more than one child is permitted if both parents are single children.

The programme is widely hated, and there is growing pressure to abandon the policy as China's population gets older. The government insists the policy is needed to help distribute limited resources in the world's most populous nation. There are 1.3 billion people in China now, and the government says that figure would be 1.7 billion had it not initiated the programme.