UN rights experts voice concern over China's forced separation of Uyghur children

UN rights experts voice concern over China's forced separation of Uyghur children
United Nations experts have voiced deep concern over China's expansion of a state-run boarding school system in Xinjiang, where Uyghur and other minority Muslim children are forcibly separated from their families.
2 min read
29 September, 2023
The children are reportedly treated as orphans by state authorities and placed in full-time boarding schools [Getty]

United Nations experts have expressed "grave concern" over allegations that China has expanded its state-run boarding school system in Xinjiang province, which has seen Uyghur and other minority Muslim children separated from their families.

UN rights experts revealed on Tuesday that the children of families detained by the state are forced into boarding schools.

Despite the Uyghur pupils having parents they were treated as orphans by the state and placed in full-time educational facilities where the dominant language of China, Mandarin, is almost exclusively used.  This practice is happening on a massive scale, the experts said.

Children had little to no opportunity to learn in their mother tongue, the experts said, while teachers could be sanctioned for using Uyghur outside language classes.

The system appears to be an attempt to force Uyghur children to assimilate into the majority Mandarin culture by adopting the language and other non-native practices.  

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"Uyghur and other minority children in highly regulated and controlled boarding institutions may have little interaction with their parents, extended family or communities for much of their youth," the experts said. 

"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."

UN experts have warned about the huge rise in the number of boarding schools in Xinjiang in recent years and the closure of local education facilities where Uyghur and other minority language-based education was provided.

Peter Irwin, Uyghur Human Rights Project's Associate Director for Research and Advocacy, called for the Human Rights Council to urgently examine China's treatment of Uyghurs.

"The fact that the UN's top experts on cultural rights and religious freedom have called out China is telling. The language they use is particularly strong—it matches the urgency for Uyghurs who are quickly losing their right to learn in Uyghur," Irwin told The New Arab.

"Dozens of UN experts have been calling on the Human Rights Council to hold a session to examine China's treatment of Uyghurs, but still we see nothing," he said.

"The High Commissioner needs to add the UN human rights office's weight to this call as well," he added.

"China consistently claims that it 'cooperates' with the UN system, but then refuses to acknowledge what any of these experts actually say."

Efforts to force Uyghur children to assimilate came after the Chinese government undertook a mass detention and internment campaign in 2017 which saw 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities incarcerated in a network of detention camps.   

The US and others have described the campaign as "genocide".