Nearly a half million children in China’s Xinjiang region have been separated from their families and placed in boarding schools, according to a planning document published on a government website.
The ruling Communist Party has set a goal of operating one or two such schools in each of Xinjiang’s 800-plus townships by the end of next year, according to a Dec. 28 report in The New York Times, citing a 2017 Ministry of Education document.
The report also cited interviews with ethnic Uyghurs and Kazakh exiles, as well as documents published online and state media reports.
Beijing says the schools provide an easy way to educate children would otherwise be uncared for by poor parents having to work in remote areas.
Critics say it is a cynical attempt to “assimilate and indoctrinate,” Uyghur and Kazakh children at an early age and steer them away from Islam and into the arms of the Communist Party and the nation.
Many children are being forced into the and tightly guarded schools while their parents are either detained in “re-education camps,” sent far from home to work or who are deemed by authorities as unfit to raise children.
“The long-term strategy is to conquer, to captivate, to win over the young generation from the beginning,” Adrian Zenz, a researcher at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, told NYT.
To do this, thousands of teachers from across China have been recruited for the schools, while local educators have either been detained or threatened.
The children are only allowed to see their families once every one or two weeks to “break the impact of the religious atmosphere on children at home,” according to the 2017 Ministry of Education policy document. It said religion had a negative influence on children.
It also said that by early 2017, up to 497,800 or 40 percent of middle-school and elementary-school age children in Xinjiang were being educated in these institutions.
More recent reports suggested the campaign was ongoing and was being pushed harder, according to NYT.
Chinese authorities are further thought to have rounded up approximately 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, detaining them in camps across the region in a bid to reshape their religious and political worldview.