Geneva (September 26, 2023) UN experts have voiced their grave concern over allegations of a significant expansion of the so-called Uyghur Autonomous Region’s state-run boarding school system. These institutions have been accused of failing to provide education in the children’s mother tongue and forcibly separating Uyghur and other minority Muslim children from their families and communities, leading to their forced assimilation.
“We are deeply concerned that boarding schools in Xinjiang are teaching almost exclusively in the official language, with little or no use of Uyghur as the medium of instruction. The separation of mainly Uyghur and other minority children from their families could lead to their forced assimilation into the majority Mandarin language and the adoption of Han cultural practices,” expressed the UN experts. They stressed the discriminatory nature of the policy and the violation of minorities’ rights to education without discrimination, family life, and cultural rights.
Uyghur human rights groups and experts have been raising concerns about the intentions and impact of China’s bilingual education policies for years. The Uyghur Human Rights Project has published a report on China’s assault on the Uyghur language.
According to the U.N. report, the experts received information about the large-scale removal of children, mainly Uyghur, from their families, including very young children whose parents are in exile or detained. State authorities categorize these children as “orphans” and place them in full-time boarding schools, pre-schools, or orphanages where the language used is almost exclusively Mandarin (Putonghua).
“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,” warned the experts.
“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,” they added.
Uyghur children placed in these boarding schools reportedly have little or no access to education in the Uyghur language and are under increasing pressure to speak and learn only Mandarin (Putonghua). Teachers can also face sanctions for using the Uyghur language outside of specific language classes.
The UN experts also learned of the exponential increase in the number of boarding schools for other Muslim and minority children in the so-called Uyghur Autonomous Region in recent years. Local schools that previously provided education through the medium of Uyghur and other minority languages have been closed. “The massive scale of the allegations raises extremely serious concerns of violations of basic human rights,” they declared.
The experts have been in contact with the Chinese government regarding these issues, pressing for a resolution to protect the rights and cultural identities of Uyghur and other minority children in the region.