Tibetan children are forcibly separated from parents, say UN experts amid China’s denial of claim


China has denied UN Special Rapporteurs’ claim that it has separated one million Tibetan children from their families and has forcibly placed them in boarding schools as part of its attempt to assimilate them religiously, culturally, and linguistically into the dominant Han Chinese culture. “This is certainly not true and apparently just another allegation meant to mislead the public about China and smear China’s image. As is commonly seen around the world, there are boarding schools across Chinese provinces and regions to meet the needs of the local students.

These schools provide accommodation, catering, and other boarding services. They are not closed facilities and still less run in military style,” China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning said during a regular press briefing last week.

China has come under huge attack from the UN experts for its alleged move to forcibly assimilate the Tibetan identity into the foremost Han culture. This has come even as China faces a tough time in denying the truth on human rights violations of Uyghurs, Muslim ethnic groups living in the north-western region of Xinjiang.

“We are alarmed by what appears to be policy of forced assimilation of the Tibetan identity into the dominant Han-Chinese majority, through a series of oppressive actions against Tibetan educational, religious and linguistic institutions,” Fernand de Varennes, UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Farida Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on the right to education and Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, said in a joint statement on February 6, 2023.

Debunking this claim of the UN experts, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson said, “In the case of China’s Tibet, this is a region of high altitude and highly scattered population in many areas. For children from herding families in particular, they have to travel long distances to get to school. If schools were to be built in every place the students live, it would be very difficult to ensure adequate teachers and quality of teaching in each school.”

But the UN experts said there is more to something than meets the eye: the study material for Tibetan children and environment are built around Han culture; lessons are conducted solely in Mandarin Chinese (Putonghua) with scant reference to Tibetan history, religion, and “certainly not exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.”

However, outrightly rejecting such statements of the UN experts, the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson said, “Boarding schools have been set up as a practical way to ensure all children’s equal right to education. It is entirely up to the students and their parents whether to board or not.”

UN experts tear asunder a façade of untruth built by Chinese authorities around Tibetan residential schools. “We are very disturbed that in recent years the residential school system for Tibetan children appears to act as a mandatory large-scale programme intended to assimilate Tibetans into majority Han culture, contrary to international human rights standards,” the UN experts said.

In the midst of these allegations, Time magazine has nailed Chinese authorities’ claim that Tibetan students at the boarding schools are free to go home on every weekend, holiday and festivals like the Tibetan New Year and Shoton festival as well as during the winter and summer breaks. The US-based popular news magazine in its report said these children are given just one or two weeks leave to go home every year. “The result is many Tibetan children forget their native tongue and struggle to communicate with their parents when they return home,” said Time in its report.

It has come at the time when China is in the whirlwind of international fury over the alleged human rights violations of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Human rights groups have accused China of detaining over a million Uyghurs against their will over the past several years in what is called “re-education camps.”

Besides leading human rights groups like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, several countries including the US have accused Beijing of committing genocide in Xinjiang. “Our exhaustive documentation of the PRC’s actions in Xinjiang confirms that since at least March 2017, local authorities dramatically escalated their decades-long campaign of repression against Uyghur Muslim and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups, including ethnic Kazakhs and ethnic Kyrgyz,” the US State Department said in a statement on January 19, 2021.

China has also been accused of orchestrating a mass migration of Han Chinese people into Xinjiang in order to dilute Uyghurs’ population in the region. It has also been accused of targeting Muslim men by prohibiting them from performing religious practices in the region, as well as destroying mosques and tombs.

Uyghurs have expressed their fear that their ethnic culture is under threat of annihilation, a similar concern that Tibetans have been voicing for years about their brutal repression, ethnic cleansing by the mass settlement of Han Chinese and the promotion of Mandarin Chinese over Tibetan language, torture, murder and disappearances and incarceration without trial.

Under Xi Jinping’s regime, it is alleged that state-led persecution of ethnic minorities has increased. In 2021, the country’s Central Conference on Ethnic Affairs called on all ethnic groups to place the interest of the Chinese nation above anything else. UN experts said, “This call re-affirmed the building of a modern and strong socialist state based on a single Chinese national identity.”

While Chinese authorities routinely deny such allegations, they appear to be evasive in answering questions as to why foreign journalists are not allowed to visit Tibet. “In the light of the unique geographical and climatic conditions, there are some necessary procedures to go through for foreign nationals who wish to go to the Tibet Autonomous Region,” Mao Ning said. Analysts see in the statement an excuse to restrict foreigners’ visit to Tibet.

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