US lawmakers seek UN probe into China’s forced placement of Tibetan children in state-run schools

Washington: Two US lawmakers have called on the United Nations to investigate Chinese authorities’ forced placement of Tibetan children in state-run schools where they are separated from their families in a bid to reduce contact with their native language and culture, according to a media report.

In a letter to Volker Turk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Senator Jeff Merkley and Representative Jim McGovern said around 80 per cent of Tibetan children are now being sent to Chinese boarding schools where they are taught a “highly politicised curriculum”, RFA reported.

“We see this system as resulting in serious human rights violations and cultural and linguistic erasure,” Merkely and McGovern wrote as chair and co-chair, respectively, of the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China, the report said.

“Tibetan parents are often faced with no choice but to send their children to residential schools because of school closures and consolidations, in some cases accompanied by fines or threats for noncompliance,” the two Congressmen wrote, citing a 2021 report released by the Tibet Action Institute, or TAP.

The report also notes “high rates of mental and emotional distress” among Tibetan students sent to Chinese state-run residential schools, Merkely and McGovern wrote.

“We believe these actions by the Chinese authorities constitute a fundamental violation of the rights of Tibetan parents and children by interfering with their right to preserve the integrity of their family units and stripping them of their right to choose the educational direction of their children.”

Speaking to RFA, Tenzin Lekshey, spokesperson for Tibet’s India-based exile government — Central Tibetan Administration — said China’s boarding schools in Tibet “target and exploit minorities, especially Tibetans who are intentionally cut off from learning their mother tongue, culture and religion”.

“The Central Tibetan Administration appreciates and is grateful to the US Congress for seeking United Nations investigation on forced family separations in Tibet,” Lekshey said.

The Chinese government has now also prioritised the teaching of Mandarin Chinese in many daycare centers in Tibet, added Tenzin Nyiwoe, a researcher at the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy based out of Dharamsala in India, RFA reported.

“If the United Nations can deliver a thorough investigation into these policies and campaigns and release a report on the urgency of this situation, this will not only [prevent] China’s attempt to eradicate the Tibetan language, but will also protect the human rights of the Tibetan people. So the concern expressed by the US Congress is very significant,” Nyiwoe said.

Language rights have become a particular focus for efforts in recent years to assert national identity in Tibet, a formerly independent Himalayan country that was invaded and incorporated into China by force more than 70 years ago.

Informally organised language courses in the monasteries and towns are routinely deemed “illegal associations”, with teachers subject to detention and arrest, sources said, RFA reported.


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