The Lives of Tibetan Children Under Chinese Rule

The following is a summary of a report by the Tibet Justice Center (Lawyers for Tibet) I really recommend you read the report in full, because it is moving reading that reports about the horrible lives that children of Tibet have to endure under Chinese tyranny. The report investigates the Tibetan children’s human rights in three areas: detention, torture and other maltreatment by state actors; education; and healthcare and nutrition.


A Generation in Peril

The Lives of Tibetan Children Under Chinese Rule




  • Chinese authorities arbitrarily detain Tibetan children, usually in deplorable conditions, and hold them for months or years without any semblance of due process.
  • Tibetan children may be detained at police stations, ‘reeducation through labor’ centers and prisons.
  • Children may be apprehended on suspicion of involvement in Tibetan nationalist activities, for attempting to flee to India or Nepal, or for innocuous acts such as searching for a relative or complaining about a friend’s medical treatment.
  • They receive no legal hearing of any kind. Most detained for alleged political activities are ‘sentenced’ for a period of roughly one to three years.
  • Detention facilities have deplorable conditions: meager if any food and water, little to no bedding, poor sanitation, little light and a complete absence of medical care.


  • Children detained for alleged political offenses virtually always suffer interrogation and torture in the same manner as adult Tibetans accused of political activities.
  • To obtain information and confessions, to intimidate and to punish, Chinese officials at times torture Tibetan children (in one case as young as four years old).
  • Torture most often involves beatings (with everything from fists and military boots to whips, sticks and metal rods) and application of electric cattle prods to sensitive areas of children’s bodies.
  • Other forms of torture used against children include burns, assault by attack dogs, suspension in painful positions and psychological torture, such as solitary confinement, threatening children’s parents and forcing children to witness friends and relations being tortured.
  • Older girls may be subjected to sexual abuse while in custody.
  • Tibetan children suspected of harboring Tibetan nationalist sentiments or of participating in ‘political’ activities, such as non-violent demonstrations, suffer the most severe torture.

Corporal punishment:

  • Teachers in Tibetan primary schools routinely employ corporal punishment in a manner that often constitutes torture as defined by international law.
  • Teachers use corporal punishment to chastise Tibetan children for lateness, poor class or exam performance, failure to turn in homework and acts with perceived political significance; for instance, neglecting to hold China’s state flag as required during an assembly.
  • Corporal punishments include beatings with sticks, bamboo staffs, whips, wires, brooms and belts, forced kneeling on sharp objects, such as glass, stones or spiked iron bars, and application of electric shocks.
  • The most severe forms of corporal punishment are inflicted on Tibetan children whose words or actions may be perceived as expressions of the Tibetan national identity.
  • Tibetan children sometimes study in separate and poorer quality primary schools compared to their Chinese counterparts, and in mixed schools, they often face ethnic discrimination.
  • In other mixed primary schools, Chinese teachers discriminate against Tibetan students in various ways. For instance, they require Tibetan students, but not Chinese, to perform physical labor, such as cleaning toilets, sweeping and cooking.
  • They also reportedly denigrate Tibetan students, calling them ‘dirty,’ ‘not intelligent’ or ‘donkeys.’

Access to Healthcare:

  • Tibetan children suffer from poor access to healthcare, in large part because of two factors: the absence of adequate healthcare facilities, particularly in rural and nomadic regions of Tibet; and the high cost of healthcare even where facilities exist.
  • Tibetan children in Lhasa and a few other urban areas live near modern hospitals. Most Tibetans, however, must travel hours or days to reach a modern medical clinic.
  • In the event of an emergency, Tibetan children may be unable to reach an appropriate facility in time to avert fatality. In addition, the high cost of healthcare prevents many Tibetan children from receiving treatment even if they do live near a hospital or clinic.
  • A childhood vaccination program, which has been implemented throughout most of China, has not reached the majority of Tibetan children, more than eighty percent of whom live in rural and nomadic areas.

Common Illnesses Among Tibetan Children:

  • The most common serious illnesses from which Tibetan children suffer are acute upper respiratory infections (such as pneumonia), diarrheal disease, hepatitis, hydatid disease, and tuberculosis.
  • Diarrheal illnesses, commonly caused by parasites, constitute the leading cause of death for Tibetan children.
  • Other health problems, such as rickets and leprosy, may be more localized, affecting certain sectors of the Tibetan population more than others.

Malnutrition and Growth Stunting:

  • Recent studies show that Tibetan children suffer from growth stunting caused by chronic malnutrition. More than half of the Tibetan children examined in one recent study showed indications of growth stunting.
  • Malnutrition also renders children susceptible to fatal childhood diseases, a problem that is compounded for Tibetan children because few receive basic childhood vaccinations.
  • Tax practices and market regulation policies instituted by the Chinese government have led to shortages of food for some Tibetan families.
  • Most Tibetan children have access to adequate drinking water because of the abundance of rain and snow. In some regions, however, the water supply is infected with parasites and other impurities, causing dysentery and, potentially, long-term health problems.

Health Education:

  • Tibetan children receive virtually no health education.
  • Even those who attend state-run schools do not learn basic information about, for example, how to prevent the spread of disease. The absence of health education could lead to severe problems in the near future.
  • Some reports suggest that AIDS may soon become an epidemic in Tibet, with the rise of prostitution in Lhasa contributing to this threat.

The circumstances outlined above motivate many Tibetan children – nearly 1,000 each year – to risk their lives on hazardous journeys into exile in India.

Not only do these conditions put the survival of Tibet’s culture at risk, they also jeopardize the physical, psychological, and social welfare of the Tibetan people.

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