Uighur children fall victim to China anti-terror driveJuly 09, 2018
On a quiet street in the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar, a house lies empty, padlocked from the outside, the family who lived there gone.
The father was detained in February; three months later the mother was also taken away by authorities. They had allegedly shared extremist Islamist content on their mobile phones, family friends said.
Despite protests from relatives, two of their children, aged 18 and 15, were then detained and their younger two, aged seven and nine, were sent to a state welfare centre. “The grandfather even wept, but the authorities would not let him keep his grandchildren,” recalled an acquaintance.
The family had fallen foul of an anti-terror drive conducted by Beijing, which has forcibly separated families, sending thousands of children to de facto orphanages, according to Uighurs interviewed in China and abroad by the Financial Times.
The widening scale of the detentions means it is increasingly common for entire extended families to be separated from their children. The younger children are then sent to “child welfare guidance centres” while older children are sometimes sent to state-run vocational institutes, according to residents in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, and Kashgar.
If both parents are in jail, the child will be sent to a re-education centre for ‘special children’,” said a former teacher in one of the re-education centres. “The child is forbidden to go to school with the normal children because the parents have a political problem.
In early 2017, Xinjiang began building dozens of these welfare centres, according to public tenders issued by local county governments and local state media reports. The orphanages are being built under a new “five guarantees” policy begun in 2017 that aims to provide orphans with state-sponsored care until they turn 18.
The centres are usually massive in scale, even when located in remote areas. In Yumin county, with a population of 50,000, authorities recently broke ground on a 3,000 sq m centre at a cost of Rmb9.8m ($1.5m). One county in Kashgar built 18 new orphanages in 2017 alone, according to local media.
Not all children are sent to welfare centres, say Xinjiang residents. The rapid escalation of detentions has left local governments unprepared to manage the thousands of children needing care. Some board at existing state-run schools. Older children can be sent to vocational schools, a practice that has existed in China, albeit on a very small scale, for years.
“There has been a big readjustment within the educational system here because of the training schools,” said a retired government official in Kashgar surnamed Dong, employing a common euphemism for the detention centres. “[The children] eat, sleep and learn on the government’s expense, though I would not advise you to send your own children there. It is really all just the children of Uighurs.”
Mutelip (a pseudonym), an Uighur living in the US, had two cousins aged 10 and 12 taken away by government officials and sent to an unspecified school on a state scholarship last April. His grandparents cut off communication with him, fearing punishment for communicating with someone abroad.