About a million Tibetan children in China have been separated from their families and placed into government-run boarding schools, with UN human rights experts voicing alarm over this policy of “forced assimilation” of the Tibetan identity into the dominant majority through a series of oppressive actions.
“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,” the UN experts said.
Around a million children of the Tibetan minority were being affected by Chinese government policies aimed at assimilating Tibetan people culturally, religiously, and linguistically through a residential school system, the experts added.
“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 a statement on Monday.
The experts are UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on the right to education Farida Shaheed and Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights Alexandra Xanthaki.
In residential schools, the educational content and environment is built around majority Han culture, with textbook content reflecting almost solely the lived experience of Han students, the statement said.
Children of the Tibetan minority are forced to complete a “compulsory education” curriculum in Mandarin Chinese (Putonghua) without access to traditional or culturally relevant learning.
The Putonghua language governmental schools do not provide a substantive study of the Tibetan minority’s language, history and culture.
“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,” the experts said.
They raised concerns about a reported substantial increase in the number of residential schools operating in and outside of the Tibet Autonomous Region and the number of Tibetan children living in them.
While residential schools exist in other parts of China, their share in areas populated by the Tibetan minority is much higher, and this percentage has been increasing in recent years.
While on the national level the percentage of boarding students is more than 20 per cent, information received points to the vast majority of Tibetan children in residential schools, almost one million children in total, the statement said.
“This increase in the number of boarding Tibetan students is achieved by the closure of rural schools in areas which tend to be populated by Tibetans, and their replacement by township or county-level schools which almost exclusively use Putonghua in teaching and communications, and usually requiring children to board,” the experts said in the statement.
“Many of those residential schools are situated far from the family homes of students boarding in them.” The UN experts said the policies run contrary to the prohibition of discrimination and the rights to education, linguistic and cultural rights, freedom of religion or belief and other minority rights of the Tibetan people.
“This is a reversal of policies which were more inclusive or accommodating in some respects,” the experts said.
In August 2021, the Central Conference on Ethnic Affairs called on all ethnic groups to be guided to always place the interests of the Chinese 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. 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 UN experts said.
The experts sent a communication to the Government of China in November 2022 and remain in contact with the authorities regarding the issue, the statement said.
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