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China accused of forcibly separating Uyghur children

Communist regime has introduced a boarding school system in Xinjiang that disconnects children from their ethnic heritage
Children and protesters of the French Uyghur Community hold flags of East Turkestan (or Uighur) and France during a demonstration over China's human rights record near the Eiffel Tower on the Trocadero esplanade in Paris on March 25, 2019, during a state visit of the Chinese president.

Children and protesters of the French Uyghur Community hold flags of East Turkestan (or Uighur) and France during a demonstration over China's human rights record near the Eiffel Tower on the Trocadero esplanade in Paris on March 25, 2019, during a state visit of the Chinese president. (Photo: AFP)

Published: September 30, 2023 05:03 AM GMT
Updated: September 30, 2023 05:12 AM GMT

Experts from the United Nations have expressed grave concerns over the expansion of a boarding school system that forcibly separates Uyghur and other Muslim children from their families and communities in China’s restive Xinjiang region.

In a press release on Sept. 26, panel experts from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights voiced their concerns over forced assimilation of Uyghur children, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported.

"We are deeply concerned that boarding schools in Xinjiang are teaching almost exclusively in the official language with little or no use of Uyghur as a medium of instruction,” the experts said.

“The separation of mainly Uyghur and other minority children from their families could lead to their forced assimilation into the majority Mandarin language and the adoption of Han cultural practices,” the experts added.

The three-member panel included Special Rapporteurs Fernand de Varennes for minority issues, Alexandra Xanthaki in the field of cultural rights, and Farida Shaheed who focuses on education.

The panel collected information on the large-scale removal of children, mainly Uyghur, from their families, including very young children whose parents are in exile or “interned/detained." 

“These children are treated as 'orphans' by State authorities and placed in full-time boarding schools, pre-schools, or orphanages where the language used is almost exclusively Mandarin [Putonghua],” the experts said.

The move to forcefully assimilate Uyghurs at young ages gathered steam in 2017 after the Chinese regime launched mass detention of millions of Uyghur and other Muslim minorities in a network of internment camps across Xinjiang.

The experts also voiced their concern that the children housed in “highly regulated and controlled boarding institutions” may have very minimal interactions with their kith and kin resulting in a disconnection from their ethnic heritage.

“This will inevitably lead to a loss of connection with their families and communities and undermine their ties to their cultural, religious, and linguistic identities,” the experts said.

The children have little or no access to education in the Uyghur language and have been pressured to speak and learn only Mandarin as opposed to education aimed at achieving bilingualism in both Uyghur and Mandarin, RFA reported.

The experts said that even teachers are not spared and can face sanctions for using the Uyghur language outside of specific language classes.

They have also expressed concerns about the “exponential increase” in the number of boarding schools in the region for other Muslim and minority children and the closure of local schools offering education in Uyghur and other minority languages.

“The massive scale of the allegations raises extremely serious concerns of violations of basic human rights,” they said.

Omer Kanat, executive director of Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project urged the UN member states to vote against China’s upcoming bid for re-election to the UN Human Rights Council.

“Uyghur children are torn from their parents as state policy. It’s past time for U.N. member states to recognize this is a genocide,” Kanat said.

The US government on Sept. 26 announced that it had determined “genocide and crimes against humanity continued to occur” in China’s Xinjiang region in 2022.

In addition, the US also blacklisted three more companies located in Xinjiang because of their use of forced Uyghur labor. This bans American companies from importing their goods.

Adrian Zenz, a Xinjiang expert who first reported on the boarding schools in 2019, said he was “grateful” for the U.N. experts’ statement, but questioned the delay for such a statement to come from the global rights body.

“I’m also wondering why it took so long – and why did it take the U.N. so long?” Zenz told RFA.

Zenz urged the UN Human Rights Council to prepare its own report summarizing existing research on the issue so it could follow up with a resolution condemning China.  

Zenz alleged that the international community has “paid no attention” to the plight of Uyghurs in Xinjiang and said that the issue “deserves more attention.”

China has long been accused of brutal persecution and ethnic cleansing in Xinjiang, home to minority Turkic Muslim group, in the guise of counter-terrorism measures.

The Chinese Communist Party has refuted the allegations repeatedly and claimed the “de-radicalization efforts” have been conducted according to “the rule of law” which by no means add up to “suppression of ethnic minorities.”

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