By Olivia Enos, Contributor
I write about international human rights and national security.
May 8, 2023
KASHGAR, XINJIANG, CHINA - 2017/07/08: A Uyghur boy is pictured on the street of the Kashgar old town in the northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China. (Photo by Guillaume Payen/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES
At the time of this writing, I am ten weeks into maternity leave for my firstborn son. This little boy has quickly become one of the most important people to me. I bear personal responsibility for shepherding his precious life and ensuring his safety.
Though I always understood the gravity and brutality of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) genocide and crimes against humanity ongoing against Uyghur Muslims, the birth of my son has given me a newfound appreciation for the depravity of the CCP’s strategy of separating child from parent.
This week, a new report from Bitter Winter revealed three videos of Uyghur boys, ages 5 to 11, coerced into saying that they loved or wanted to join the People’s Liberation Army. They said it in Chinese, not Uyghur. They were goaded by CCP officials to say what they said.
These boys are but a few of the estimated 900,000 Uyghur children separated from their parents in so-called boarding schools or live-in kindergartens. While we have long known about these programs thanks to the meticulous work of China scholar Adrian Zenz, these videos provide evidence of the nature of the CCP’s indoctrination.
It is no secret that the CCP seeks to tear apart Uyghur families; the ultimate aim is replacing the family unit with the Party. Some Uyghur children are effectively orphaned because both of their parents are extrajudicially imprisoned in the CCP’s political prison camps which are estimated to hold between 1.8 million to 3 million individuals. Others have parents sent to various parts of China as part of mass forced labor programs. Some children never even come into being because the CCP subjects Uyghur women to forced abortion and forced sterilization.
The newly released videos are disturbing for many reasons. But this is what stood out to me. One of the most significant questions a little one can be asked is what they want to be when they grow up. Most children will answer something like a firefighter, a doctor, a teacher, or maybe even a president or world leader. These little boys pledged allegiance — promising to lay down their lives — to the CCP. Their hopes and dreams no longer their own but instead those of the Party.
These little boys serve as an additional justification for why policymakers and civil society activists must continue defending the rights and freedoms of Uyghurs.
Uyghur children and their families should be front and center in our advocacy. Congress and the executive branch cannot stop until every camp is closed and every prisoner released.
The Congressional-Executive Commission on China, the Select Committee on the CCP, or other committees should hold a hearing to investigate the CCP’s treatment of Uyghur children and identify individuals ripe for sanctioning within the Chinese government responsible for indoctrinating and imprisoning Uyghur children. Congress and the administration should also extend expedited Priority-2 refugee status to Uyghur families facing persecution, offering them safe haven within our borders. Members of Congress should adopt detained Uyghur children, like Rahile Omer, the youngest documented detainee (she was only 15 at the time of her detention in 2018), and tirelessly advocate for their release.
I’m writing this piece during maternity leave because if my son were facing similar persecution, I would hope that others around the world would come to his defense even when his mom could not. There is a kinship in motherhood that transcends borders. I and others stand with Uyghurs separated from their beloved children. We won’t back down until every Uyghur child is free to dream again.