It's Not Just America—China Is Forcibly Separating Thousands of Children From Their Families

A new investigation has revealed that Chinese authorities are seperating Muslim children from their families as part of Beijing's controversial "re-education" campaign in the Muslim-majority far west of the country.

According to the BBC, the strategy is designed to dislocate children from their religious and cultural roots and sinicize them while their parents are detained in separate facilities.

The investigation showed that Beijing has launched a major project to build boarding schools for Uighur children from the western Xinjiang region, where the Communist Party is persecuting residents perceived as having questionable loyalty to the central government.

More than 1 million people are thought to be held in re-education camps—described by some human rights groups as akin to concentration camps. The program runs in tandem with mass surveillance, the destruction of culturally important buildings like mosques, and reconstructing towns and cities to make residents easier to control.

The government has argued that the program is needed to fight terrorism and maintain national unity. While hundreds have been killed by Islamist and secessionist cells from the west of the country, foreign governments and human rights groups have argued that Beijing's response is disproportionate.

The BBC investigation is based on 60 interviews with parents and other relatives of missing children, all of them Uighurs—the region's dominant and Muslim-majority ethnicity. More than 100 children are known to have gone missing. The tight security restrictions in Xinjiang meant the BBC was only able to speak with relatives in Istanbul, Turkey.

"I don't know who is looking after them," one mother of three girls told the BBC. "There is no contact at all." Another, the mother of four, said she heard her children had "been taken to an orphanage."

The interviews and publicly available documents suggest a concerted effort to remove children from their cultural roots. In one township alone, there are more than 400 children whose parents have been either arrested or sent to re-education camps. In cases like these, the government carries out assessments to decide whether the children should be placed in "centralized care."

The state has embarked on a boarding school building program to house children like these. The BBC cited government figures showing that the total number of children enrolled in kindergartens in Xinjiang increased by more than 500,000 in 2017.

Uighur and Muslim minority children accounted for more than 90 percent of that increase. This has left the region with the highest preschool enrollment rate in the whole country, whereas before this drive its rate was below the national average.

In the southern part of Xinjiang which is densely populated with Uighur's, the BBC noted that the government spent around $1.2 billion on building and expanding preschools.

The Chinese government had repeatedly dismissed international criticism of what is terms "vocational training centers." Officials have argued that inmates are happy and learning new skills, though reports from inside the camps detail human rights abuses, ideological brainwashing and ingrained Islamophobia.

Multiple groups and publications have said that the sinicization project amounts to cultural genocide, in the same way that Beijing suppressed the restive province of Tibet.

Uighur, China, Muslims, family separation
People protest at a pro-Uighur rally on February 5, 2019 in front of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York City, to encourage the State Department to fight for the freedom of the majority-Muslim Uighur population imprisoned in Chinese concentration camps. TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty