The police went to the house of a Tibetan community leader to arrest him. When they found he was not home they dragged his son out of the house, into the courtyard and held a gun in his mouth. The boy was only about 12 or 13. He looked so frightened.
– Eyewitness account, Drango county, January 2012
There can be no normal childhood in an abnormal society.
The children of Tibet face all the challenges of life under occupation and in many cases are full participants in the struggle to resist it, including the ongoing self-immolation protests.
That means they are also victims of the systematic and ever-present abuse of human rights in Tibet.
No Tibetan education for Tibetan children
I cannot read and write my own language. It makes me feel ashamed and always sad to face that fact.
– Schoolgirl from Tawu
The provision of education in Tibet is poor and Tibetans are disadvantaged by the use of Mandarin Chinese as the language of instruction.
According to a UN report in 2005, primary school attendance in Tibet was significantly lower than the rest of China. The Tibetan Autonomous Region had the lowest overall literacy rates of all Chinese regions – 66% while the literacy rate in China as a whole was 89.7%.
Tibetan monks, teachers and university students have held Tibetan language classes and workshops in their communities to combat the increasing dominance of Chinese language in education. However, even projects like these risk punishment from the authorities; in 2014, respected local leader and advocate for the Tibetan language Khenpo Kartse was sentenced to two and a half years in jail.
Children and students are regularly at the centre of demonstrations against Chinese rule. They have been particularly active in protesting for Tibetan language rights.
In 2010, several thousand students protested the replacement of Tibetan with Chinese in schools, chanting “we want equality of nationality, we want equality of culture." A similar protest took place in 2012, when more than twenty students were hospitalised after security forces arrived at the demonstration and several were later jailed. In 2013, unemployed Tibetan graduates staged a protest highlighting their disadvantages in finding jobs and competing with Chinese immigrants.
Almost half of those who have self-immolated in Tibet are younger than 25. To date, thirty teenagers have set themselves on fire in protest.
Youth no protection from repression
Here are just a few examples of the countless children who have suffered at the hands of China's regime.
- In June 2012, teenager Jigme Dolma (pictured) was severely beaten after calling for the return of the Dalai Lama and freedom in Tibet. She was later sentenced to three years imprisonment for ‘splitting China’.
- After 16-year-old Tsomo (name changed) and her uncle shouted “Long live the Dalai Lama” and “Freedom for Tibet” in a town centre in July 2008, she was detained for more than a year and tortured, which included having a gun held to her forehead in a mock execution.
- In March 2008, 16-year-old school girl Lhundup Tso was among 13 people shot dead by security forces during a peaceful protest. The UN demanded a full inquiry by Chinese authorities into the shootings: it has never taken place.
- In May 1995, China abducted six-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima from his home. He had been recognised by the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, one of the highest-ranking spiritual leaders in Tibet. His whereabouts remain unknown.
The United Nations and China
UN processes are the only mechanisms for holding China to account on its human rights record. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), protects children (defined as anyone under 18) from torture, provides that children deprived of their liberty shall be treated with respect and stipulates that detention “shall be used only as a measure of last resort”. China has ratified the UNCRC.
In 2012, Free Tibet and our research partner Tibet Watch submitted a comprehensive report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), documenting the reality for children growing up under military occupation and featuring several interviews. During 2013, the CRC considered China's case and demanded answers from China to specific questions. Many of Free Tibet's concerns were taken up by the committee.
In 2014, the UN continued to put pressure on China, with a review by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR). The committee's conclusions indicated that the worst area for child malnutrition in China is in Tibet.