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UN experts alarmed by China’s forced assimilation of a million Tibetan children

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(TibetanReview.net, Feb07’23) – While Australia and Canada have made much publicized moves in recent times to make amends for their grievous historical wrongs committed against their indigenous populations in ostensible moves to civilize them, China is going in the opposite direction to assimilate the children of its Tibetan subjects under a similar discredited campaign to the disappointment of human rights experts at the United Nations.

Three independent UN human rights experts have on Feb 6 expressed alarm that about a million Tibetan children have been separated from their families and placed into Government-run boarding schools where they are forced to assimilate into the dominant Han Chinese culture of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

“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,” news.un.org Feb 6 quoted the experts as saying in a statement.

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The independent experts – Fernand de Varennes, 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 – have noted that the residential schools provide educational content and an environment centred around Han culture.

They have said that in these schools children from the Tibetan minority are forced to complete a “compulsory education” curriculum in the Mandarin Chinese language, or Putonghua, with no access to traditional or culturally-relevant learning. And any substantive study of Tibetan language, history and culture is denied to them.

“As a result, 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,” they have added.

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The experts have also expressed concern over the reported substantial increase in the number of such residential schools operating in and outside of the Tibet Autonomous Region, and the number of Tibetan children living in them.

They have pointed out that while residential schools exist in other parts of the PRC as well, their share in areas with Tibetan minority populations was much higher, and this percentage has been increasing in recent years.

In particular, they have noted that nationally, the percentage of students boarding is more than 20%, whereas the information they have received points to the vast majority of Tibetan children being enrolled in these institutions, totaling nearly one million.

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The experts have said the increase has been achieved through closing rural schools in areas that tend to be populated by Tibetans, replacing them with township or county-level schools where teaching and communications are almost exclusively in Putonghua (standard Mandarin), and students are usually required to board.

Noting that “many residential schools are situated far from the family homes of students boarding in them,” the experts had continued, “We are alarmed by what appears to be a 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.”

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Referring to China’s obligations under international law, the experts have pointed out that these policies run contrary to the prohibition of discrimination and the rights of the Tibetan people to education, linguistic and cultural rights, freedom of religion or belief, and they represent a reversal of measures that were more inclusive or accommodating.

They have recalled that in Aug 2021, China’s Central Conference on Ethnic Affairs had called on all ethnic groups to be guided to always place the interests of the nation, above all else.  “This call re-affirmed the idea of building a modern and strong socialist State based on a single Chinese national identity,” they have pointed out.

“In this context, initiatives to promote Tibetan language and culture are reportedly being suppressed, and individuals advocating for Tibetan language and education are persecuted.”

The three experts had in Nov 2022 written to the Chinese Government and continue remain in contact with the authorities regarding the issue, the report said.

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Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to monitor and report on thematic issues or specific country situations.  They operate in their individual capacities and are independent from any government or organization.

 They are not UN staff and do not receive payment for their work.

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