On March 19, 2021, Amnesty International, a human rights non-governmental organization, published a new report focused on the issue of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) forcibly separating Uyghur families by taking young children into state orphanages. The new report is based on interviews with six parents residing in Australia, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey who have been separated from their children. As Amnesty International states, “their testimonies only begin to scratch the surface of the experiences of Uyghur families yearning for reunification with children trapped in China.” Amnesty International called on China to release all Uyghur children held in orphanages without their families’ consent, among other recommendations.
A Uyghur boy is pictured on the street of the Kashgar old town, northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur … [+]
The issue requires urgent response as such separations of children are a serious violation of human rights that cannot be neglected. However, the issue is even more egregious as such separations may constitute a genocidal method to bring about the destruction of the group in whole or in part, as forcibly transferring children of the group to another group ( Article II e of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the Genocide Convention)).
The issue was recently considered by a group of over 50 legal experts in a report concluding that the CCP “bears State responsibility for committing genocide against the Uyghurs in breach of the [Genocide Convention].”
According to that report, “In early 2017, pursuant to a new policy, the Chinese Government began building a vast network of massive, State-run, highly securitized ‘child welfare guidance centers,’ boarding schools, or de facto orphanages to confine Uyghur children full-time, including infants.” The report continues that “these orphanages are reportedly characterized by overcrowding and inhumane conditions, and are located as far as hundreds of miles from the children’s homes. A number of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) counties received specific quotas from higher authorities to institutionalize such ‘orphans,’ who have often lost both parents to the internment camps or forced labor schemes.”
According to a Ministry of Education planning document assessed by the group of experts, “between 2017 and 2019, the number of children separated from their families and placed into state-run boarding schools in the region increased by 76.9%, from 497,800 to 880,500.” Furthermore, the report indicates that “the CCP set a 2020 goal of running one to two such boarding schools in each of XUAR’s over 800 townships. Government documents indicate that the proliferation of these State-run institutions is specifically intended for children of parents detained in internment camps or forced labor schemes.”
Reportedly, “The stated purposes behind these ‘child welfare’ facilities, where children ‘eat and live,’ are to ‘liberate’ and ‘free’ minority parents to engage in ‘carefree study,’ or full-time labor.” Because “under State custody, Uyghur children are being raised in Chinese-language environments with standard Han child-rearing methods adopted by the State”, experts concluded that the CCP is thus forcibly transferring Uyghur children to State-run Han group settings. In addition, the group of experts concluded that “the intent to destroy the Uyghurs as a group is further demonstrated by the comprehensive Government policies and programs directed at erasing all aspects of Uyghur identity, community, and domestic life, and institutionalizing Uyghur children in state-run orphanages.”
The issue of forcibly separating Uyghur families by taking young children into state orphanages requires urgent response. Unfortunately, as the CCP has been denying any wrongdoing against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, it is unlikely that the issue will be addresses domestically. Only a few weeks ago, the U.K. has called for urgent and unfettered access to Xinjiang to investigate reports of abuses there. However, until now there is no confirmation whether such access will be granted. This should not prevent other steps being taken, including establishing an investigative mechanism by the U.N. Human Rights Council or the U.N. General Assembly. States are yet to take these steps.
Dr. Ewelina U. Ochab is a human rights advocate, author and co-founder of the Coalition for Genocide Response. Ochab works on the topic of genocide, with specific focus