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United Nations: “One Million Tibetan Children Forcibly Separated From Their Parents”

In November, three UN Special Rapporteurs wrote to China. There has been no satisfactory answer, and they have decided to go public.

By Massimo Introvigne

February 15, 2023

The three Special Rapporteurs: Fernand de Varennes, Farida Shaheed, and Alexandra Xanthaki. Source: United Nations.

Children forcibly separated by their families, and sent to boarding schools, often hundreds of miles away from their parents, where their culture and language are eradicated by trying to instill into them a new, foreign identity. When Canadians became aware that this was what had happened to First Nation children, deprived of their indigenous identity, language, and religion in Christian boarding schools, protests and court cases erupted.

The protesters, however, were probably unaware that what once happened in Canada is still going on today—in China, and the victims are one million Tibetan children.

This not an opinion by Bitter Winter or by “anti-Chinese” Tibetan activists only. It is a truth consigned in two official United Nations documents, signed by three UN Special Rapporteurs: 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.

The three Special Rapporteurs first wrote to China a confidential letter, dated November 11, 2022. Since they had not received a satisfactory answer, although they say they “remain in contact” with Chinese authorities, they published the letter and a press release earlier this month.

They claim that “around a million children of the Tibetan minority” are “affected by Chinese government policies aimed at assimilating Tibetan people culturally, religiously and linguistically through a residential school system.”

The three UN Special Rapporteurs said they 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.”

Schoolchildren in Tibet. From Weibo.

One million Tibetan children, i.e., the majority of children in Tibet, have been forcibly separated from their families, against the protests of their parents, and sent to boarding schools, both in Tibet and in faraway locations in China, where “the educational content and environment is built around majority Han culture, with textbook content reflecting almost solely the lived experience of Han students,” and using exclusively Mandarin Chinese (Putonghua) as a language.

“As a result, the UN Special Rapporteurs said, Tibetan children are losing their facility with their native language and the ability to communicate easily with their parents and grandparents in the Tibetan language, which contributes to their assimilation and erosion of their identity.”

Rural schools that used Tibetan as a language are closed, the Special Rapporteurs continued, and replaced “by township or county-level schools which almost exclusively use Putonghua in teaching and communications, and usually require children to board.”

The Special Rapporteurs harbor no illusion on what the aim of this policy is. It is the “forced assimilation” of the next generation of Tibetans into the Han Chinese culture, and the liquidation of their Tibetan cultural, religious, and linguistic heritage. Others have called it a cultural genocide.


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