Tibetan children sit stoically in a Sinicized classroom.

Protect Tibet’s Children

Three out of every four Tibetan children are being forced from their families

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The Chinese government has a plan for Tibet’s children: if it gets its own way, the next generation will grow up loyal to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and strangers to Tibet.

Their mother tongue, history, way of life and very identity as Tibetans will be alien to them.

One of the most shocking and pervasive parts of this plan is the system of residential schools across Tibet.

Urgent action is needed. The G7 governments are meeting in November and the CCP colonial boarding schools must be on their agenda.

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The residential school system

The numbers sound too big to be real. Over 900,000 children have been separated from their families and communities and sent into a vast network of colonial boarding schools and pre-schools across Tibet. There they are taught only what the Chinese Communist Party wants them to learn. And yet, the only problem with these numbers is that they are likely to be an underestimate.

This is according to extensive work carried out by our friends at the Tibetan Action Institute and Dr Gyal Lo, a Tibetan educator who is the world’s leading expert on these schools.

Tibetan students sit in a Sinicized classroom.
At least 78% of Tibetan students between the ages of six and 18 have been forced into the residential school system.

In boarding preschools, children between the age of four and six live at school five days a week, where they are immersed in the Chinese language and intentionally cut off from learning in their mother tongue. 

800,000 Tibetan children aged six to 18, over three in every four Tibetan students, are living in residential schools and subjected to a heavily politicised curriculum that teaches them they are Chinese rather than Tibetan.

Children are forced into this centralised boarding school system because the CCP eliminates all alternatives: Tibetan-language schools across Tibet are being closed down or demolished, teachers, such as Rinchen Kyi, have been harassed or detained and monasteries – traditionally centres of learning – have been forbidden from giving Tibetan language classes to the lay community. Parents also face threats and intimidation to send their children to these schools.

 

The effects

Dr Gyal Lo visited more than 50 such schools before escaping Tibet in 2020. Today, he works to raise awareness of the residential school system and its effects on children in Tibet. 

He has summed up the damage caused by the separation of Tibetan children from their parents as “outright cruelty” and described how these policies harm children and families alike.

“I saw in my own family how within three months of being sent to boarding preschool, children began to speak to each other only in Chinese, even though they had been raised speaking Tibetan. When the children went home on weekends, they stayed silent in the house, almost acting like guests.”

Devastating psychological harm is being inflicted on a generation of Tibetan children and parents, including the total alienation of Tibetans from their culture and traditions. In the words of one former boarding school student: “Our teachers drove us to hate our heritage, our elders, even our parents… We felt ashamed of our cultural background”.

“The Chinese government is tearing families apart and forcing these vulnerable children to become strangers to their own Tibetan culture”.
– Dr Gyal Lo

The fightback has already begun

In early 2022, Free Tibet and partners around the world launched a huge campaign to urge the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to speak out against the CCP’s colonial school policy. The response was huge: nearly 19,000 people signed the petition and shortly after, the High Commissioner, who was previously silent on Tibet, raised concerns about the policy.

We need to do more. Our next target is the G7 group of governments. Some of the countries in the G7 can look to their own history, when previous governments ran colonial boarding schools themselves. Today, discussions and debates are taking place to find ways to address the damage done by these policies.

This policy must not be repeated. We need to urge the G7 to demand that the CCP shuts down its own colonial boarding system and that it stops treating Tibet’s children as pawns in its strategy to take over Tibet.

Take Action

The G7 group of governments is due to meet in November. We need to get these boarding schools on their agenda and urge them to demand that China shuts them down.

Sign the petition

Further Reading

Further Reading

Children

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…

Further Reading

Language

Tibetans speak a number of languages. These are completely separate from Chinese languages, and all of them are currently threatened by the aggressive promotion of Mandarin Chinese as the official language of business, education and government. Although the written form of Tibetan is taught in some schools, primary and secondary education is taught predominantly in…

We are Free Tibet, and we stand with Tibetans around the world. For their homeland, for their future and against China’s brutal occupation.