A group of Uyghur elementary school students whose parents are incarcerated in internment camps or prison are being subjected to “special political education” classes in schools in northwestern China’s Xinjiang, with some pupils developing serious emotional problems and getting poor grades, sources in the region said.
Since early 2017, Chinese authorities an estimated 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have been put into political reeducation camps that Beijing says conduct vocational training to combat extremism.
Forty-two students at a primary school in Ghulja (in Chinese, Yining) county of the Ili Kazakh (Yili Hasake) Autonomous Prefecture, all of whose parents are in state custody, are undergoing different forms of political education, which has led to setbacks in their other studies, RFA’s Uyghur Service has learned.
The political education adds stress and depression to the already heavy suffering of children separated from what authorities refer to as “severely punished” parents, said a source outside the XUAR who is familiar with the current education system.
Schools in the XUAR received notices to provide “special political education” to such pupils, as well as consolation to students whose parents had been given long sentences, the source said.
The notice also advised educators take special care to prevent the students from developing antigovernment sentiments, said the source, who declined to be identified for security reasons.
A principal in Ghulja county told RFA that his school has 42 students whose parents have been incarcerated and are receiving special political education as directed by higher authorities.
A police officer who serves a neighborhood where more than 10 of the 42 children in the school live, said the political education program aims to ensure that they do not despise the Chinese Communist Party and the government.
“We gather them all together and give comfort to those who are crying,” the officer said. “We tell them not to worry a bit, that the government isn’t going to do anything [bad], that it simply is going to educate people,” she said.
“I call some of the students who have been badly affected by their family situations, especially those who parents have been harshly punished, to my office one by one each week,” she told RFA when asked about the effect of indoctrination on the moods and academic performance of the pupils.
“I’ve educated them, telling them that the law is a very just thing, that it’s not going to harm their parents, that [the parents] are going to return [to normal life], that they will be really great when they return, and that the government is doing great work,” she said. “By detaining them, the government prevents big trouble in the country.”
An official from the Ghulja County Department of Education declined to comment on political education for schoolchildren.
The 2021 notice on “special political education” said that the current situation has put a lot of pressure on children because teachers have not been open with the students in an attempt to avoid making “mistakes,” said the source who had seen the directive.
The political education sessions have stoked fear in some children, even when officials treat the children politely, because they are conducted by intimidating figures such as school political ethics advisors, neighborhood committee leaders, or village police, the source said.
A political ethics advisor in Yarkand (Shache) county in Kashgar (Kashi) prefecture told RFA that children of severely punished parents are treated no differently than other children, with the exception of the political education.
Six children whose parents had received heavy sentences were receiving special political education in her county, the advisor said.
“We’re providing a very good education to these children,” the political ethics advisor told RFA. “We don’t treat them differently. The children are all in the same classes.”
Uyghur activists in exile say they worry about possible lasting damage to students who undergo political education.
“The children and orphans separated from their parents will suffer lifelong psychological trauma,” said Ilshat Hassan, director of China affairs at the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress.
“Children without parents will develop psychological handicaps,” he told RFA.
“It’s clear from the actions of the Chinese government that a generation of Uyghur children will grow up with psychological issues.”
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by the Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.