Dharamshala: A pair of United States legislators have requested that the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights probe into reports that children in Tibet are being forcibly separated from their parents and that these practices constitute serious human rights violations and cultural and linguistic erasure.
In a letter sent to Volker Turk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Senator Jeff Merkley and Representative Jim McGovern, Chair and Cochair respectively, of the bipartisan and bicameral Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), cited report on China’s state-run boarding schools where around 80 percent of Tibetan children are being deprived of their rights and face the threat of losing their Tibetan identity under a “highly politicized curriculum”.
Based on the Tibet Action Institute report from 2021, the congressmen stated that separating children between the ages of 6 and 18 from their parents for admission to “colonial” boarding schools is an integral part of China’s policy of “sinicizing” Tibetan language by integrating children into a Mandarin Chinese-based curriculum. The discriminatory nature of the policy is evident by the high number of Tibetan children attending these schools compared to students residing elsewhere in China.
Tibetan parents are also frequently forced to send their children to these schools, which results in “mental and emotional distress” for their children due to the separation from their families, harsh living conditions, and bullying, the congressmen noted, “which interferes with parents’ right to preserve their family unit integrity and choose their children’s educational path”.
China violated its obligation to respect the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which requires the state not to interfere with the exercise of cultural practices and rights as a state party, Merkely and McGovern wrote. This right is intrinsically connected with the right to education, which allows individuals and communities to pass on values, religion, customs, language, and other cultural references to future generations.
The Central Tibetan Administration’s spokesperson Tenzin Lekshey explained that China’s boarding schools in Tibet “target and exploit minorities, especially Tibetans, who are deliberately cut off from learning their mother tongue, culture, and religion”. The Central Tibetan Administration thanks the US Congress for asking the UN to investigate forced family separations through the colonial boarding schools in Tibet,” Lekshey said.
China is violating its obligation to “respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations without unlawful interference” and to “ensure the rights of ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities…to use their own language” as required by the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the letter noted. As a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, China’s boarding school policy violates Article 18 of the Covenant, which requires states to respect liberty of parents to provide moral education for their children in accordance with their convictions.
The letter made an appeal to the UN High Commissioner to include it as an issue of concern in the upcoming Human Rights Council in March next year as well as urge the Special Rapporteurs and experts to request a visit to Tibet to assess the human rights impact of the residential schools and to assess the situation on the ground. Aware of the impact of similar policies used in the past that erased and changed identities as a form of “cultural genocide” against indigenous children, lawmakers remain determined to prevent such policies from affecting Tibet.
-Filed by the UN, EU, and the Human Rights, Tibet Advocacy Section, DIIR