Thousands of Uyghur children left parentless by China’s detention system


Evidence from government documents in Xinjiang shows thousands of Uyghur children appear to have been left without parents, as the Chinese communist government sent their parents into internment camps, prison and other detention facilities.

Records compiled by officials in southern Xinjiang indicate that in 2018 more than 9,500 mostly Uyghur children in Yarkand county were classified either as experiencing “single hardship” or “double hardship” depending on if one or both parents were detained.

The files, analysed by the researcher Adrian Zenz, is part of a cache of documents downloaded in the summer of 2019 from online networks used by local officials, showed that all the children had at least one parent in prison, detention or a “re-education” centre.

No ethnic Han Chinese children, which make up the majority population of China, were on the list.

Zenz said: “Beijing’s strategy to subdue its restive minorities in Xinjiang is shifting away from internment and towards mechanisms of long-term social control. At the forefront of this effort is a battle over the hearts and minds of the next generation.”

Authorities are believed to have detained more than 1 million Muslim people in re-education and other internment camps in the far north-western territory. It is part of a campaign that researchers and rights advocates say is aimed at wiping out local culture and suppressing the growth of the Uyghur population.

Chinese officials defend their policies in the name of poverty alleviation and counter-terrorism efforts.

Children are often placed in state orphanages or high-security boarding schools where students are closely monitored and almost all classes and interaction must be carried out in Mandarin instead of their native Uyghur language.

According to Zenz’s research, a total of 880,500 children – including those whose parents are absent for other reasons – were living in boarding facilities by 2019, an increase of about 76% from 2017 as China’s internment system expanded.

The impact of the detentions on children and family structures is one of the less scrutinised aspects of China’s increasingly criticised policies in Xinjiang. Witness accounts from those outside China have revealed what experts say is a systematic policy of separating families.

If the figures from Yarkand county were extrapolated across the region up to 250,000 Uyghurs under the age of 15 may have had one or both of their parents interned, according to the Economist, which first published Zenz’s findings.

Other files obtained and analysed by Zenz detailed cases of children in orphanages. One list of 85 “double hardship” students under the age of 10, whose parents were in interment centre or prison, included a one-year old living in a Yarkand orphanage. In another family, a three-year-old boy and a seven-year-old girl were in an orphanage because both parents were in a “re-education” centre.

In recent years, spending on education in Xinjiang has exceeded that of security as schools emerge as a key frontline in the government’s efforts to root out the possibility of dissent.

Schools often feature multi-level defensive intrusion systems, full-coverage surveillance, electric fencing and computerised patrol systems.

Despite mounting criticism of alleged abuses in Xinjiang, Beijing appears to have intensified its strategy with new reports emerging of forced labour and of forced sterilisation of Uyghur women.

In a speech late last month the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, said the strategy for governing the region was “absolutely correct”.

“The sense of gain, happiness, and security among the people of all ethnic groups has continued to increase,” he said.

In response to the report, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian called Zenz a “notorious gun for hire” for the US government. (Source: The Guardian)