A Generation in Peril: The Lives of Tibetan Children Under Chinese Rule
I. Detention, Torture and Other Maltreatment BY STATE ACTORS

B. Detention

My legs hurt because it was cold, and we had no bed or blankets. My skin on my toes and feet became very white and pus came out. I could not stand and there was no treatment. I had frostbite on both feet and hands. -Thirteen years old

I was detained for twenty days . . . behind some hills in a prison . . . . I had no idea how long I was going to be there. . . . From 8 A.M. to 7 P.M. I worked in the fields taking out weeds. -Ten years old

Most detention of Tibetan children appears to occur under one of three circumstances: First, whatever their age, children who engage in activities that may be construed as political will almost certainly suffer prolonged administrative detention, imprisonment and forced labor, virtually to the same extent as adults. Second, children apprehended while seeking to flee into exile are usually detained for a somewhat shorter period of time relative to 'political' detainees, typically about a month (but at times for longer). In confinement, children suffer interrogation under torture that aims to elicit information about their presumed Tibetan nationalist activities, connections to foreign groups or other reasons for traveling to India. Finally, Tibetan children may be detained by police, school teachers and other officials for brief periods for a variety of other (often trivial) activities, such as insubordination at school or requesting information about a detained relative.

We use the term 'detention' generically in this section. But it is important to bear in mind that Chinese law authorizes several different forms of detention. As the Tibet Information Network (TIN) recently explained, detention facilities in China fall into three categories:

- Prisons (Chinese: jianyu) and reform through labour centres (Chinese: laogai) hold prisoners who have been criminally sentenced through the judicial system (police investigation, arrest, procuratorial investigation and court verdict). . . . - Re-education through labour centres (Chinese: laojiao) for prisoners sentenced administratively by officials of the Bureau of Re-education Through Labour. - PSB [Public Security Bureau] detention centres (Chinese: kanshousuo) for police, procuratorial or court investigation and other non-process detention; . . .

The most well-known prisons in the TAR are Drapchi (TAR Prison Number One) and Powo Tramo (TAR Prison Number Two). The vast majority of Tibetan political prisoners serve their sentences at Drapchi. TIN is aware of only one 'reeducation through labor' center in the TAR, colloquially known as 'Trisam' and located in Toelung Dechen county. Most detainees in the TAR are held - at least initially and at times for periods of one or more years - at PSB detention centers, one of which exists for each of the TAR's 78 counties, as well as seven more for each of the TAR's prefectures. 'Gutsa,' the colloquial name for the PSB detention center for the Lhasa prefecture, is a common detention facility for Tibetan political prisoners and has a 'reputation for brutality,' based on numerous reports of torture, including beatings, attacks by trained dogs, shock treatments, aerial suspension and sexual assaults. Information on detention facilities outside the TAR is limited, but TIN reports that the system is structurally identical to that in the TAR. It appears, however, that outside the TAR, particularly in Qinghai (Tibetan: Amdo), there are far more laogai, prisons that operate essentially as forced labor camps.

With regard to children, several features of this three-level system should be noted. First, despite the law, in practice, detainees sentenced by administrative processes - as well as those held for alleged police, procuratorial or court investigation - often serve their 'sentences' at PSB detention centers, which are far more numerous and therefore likely to be located closer to the sites where Tibetan detainees are initially apprehended. This means that police, absent any judicial, administrative or other official supervision, often exercise long-term authority over detainees, including most detained children. This practice may enable the perpetration of torture and other abuses with greater impunity because of the lack of transparency and accountability in these facilities. Moreover, because PSB detention centers are intended to serve only short-term detainees, it is less likely that they will contain adequate provision for long-term prisoners (e.g., sufficient beds, protection from the cold and hygienic facilities). TIN notes that PRC authorities appear to prefer 'to punish children by administrative rather than judicial sentencing.' Our research confirmed this pattern.

Finally, on this last issue, we emphasize that 'reeducation through labor' is a form of 'administrative detention.' Chinese law officially authorizes these 'sentences handed down by quasi-judicial government committees' for a period of up to three years, with the possibility of a one-year extension, though in practice the ICJ observes that 'the lack of any sentence has meant that authorities can detain citizens for indefinite periods . . . .' Administrative detention, which generally means detention authorized by executive, rather than judicial, authority or discretion, violates international law in nearly all cases. In 1994 the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that China's 'reeducation through labor' practices in Tibet constitute arbitrary detention. Furthermore, 'whether prisoners are sentenced judicially or administratively seems to be at the discretion of the authorities.' Thus, both the nature of this detention (administrative 'reeducation through labor') and the manner of its imposition (discretionary judgments by non-judicial officials) are arbitrary and illegal under international law. Our research suggests that children are virtually always detained administratively, whether at a laojiao or a PSB detention center. Most children we interviewed were detained at PSB detention centers or at Trisam (the most visible 'reeducation through labor' facility), rather than in prisons. As the U.N. General Assembly has emphasized, it is precisely in situations like these that children are 'particularly vulnerable to abuse, victimization and the violation of their rights.'

1. Detention for Political Activity

While young children often do not possess the degree of political awareness that motivates older Tibetans to participate in demonstrations and other acts of political dissent, we found that children who do participate will be detained, interrogated and tortured in the same manner as adults. Even those merely suspected of 'separatist' sympathies suffer similarly. Eight of the fifty-seven children we interviewed either participated in peaceful acts of political dissent or were thought to harbor nationalist sympathies. Without exception, these children, primarily young monks and nuns, were detained in egregious conditions and tortured. (Though Tibetan political prisoners virtually always suffer torture, and this was indeed the case with all such children we interviewed, we consider the issue of torture separately and in greater detail below.)

Choekyi's Story:

Choekyi, a young nun, provides a typical example of Tibetan children's experiences in detention for political activity. In 1993, at the age of fourteen, Choekyi and her two friends secretly left their nunnery to participate in a demonstration in Lhasa. For ten minutes, they shouted slogans demanding freedom in Tibet. The police then arrived. They bent back Choekyi's wrist, dragged her and the other nuns counter-clockwise around the temple (a sacrilegious act for Tibetan Buddhists) and threw the young nuns into a jeep, which transported them to the Gutsa Detention Center. There, Choekyi was at times held in solitary confinement, interrogated daily under torture for a period of three months and detained without charge for one year. Police informed her only that she was a 'revolter against the country.' She was not permitted to contact a lawyer, never appeared before a judge and received no trial of any kind. Nonetheless, Choekyi served a three-year 'sentence.'

At Gutsa, where she remained for the first year, Choekyi shared a cell with two other girls. The children remained in their cell all day except for fifteen-minute toilet breaks in the morning and evening. Food was meager, no bedding was provided, and items for hygiene were non-existent. Choekyi developed frostbite on her hands and feet, but police officials provided no medical treatment. After her transfer to Trisam, the laojiao located in Toelung Dechen county, conditions improved in one respect: Choekyi's family was permitted to visit her twice each month under police supervision, and they brought her the clothes, food and blankets that the facility's officials failed to provide. In most other respects, however, conditions remained the same or worsened. Despite her age, prison officials forced Choekyi to perform hard labor five days each week: construction, cleaning toilets and working in the fields. She was released in 1996 and escaped to India in 1998.

Choekyi's experiences at Gutsa and Trisam reflect the usual pattern for children involved in acts of political protest. A period of 'pre-sentencing' detention in which authorities keep the child in atrocious living conditions and subject him or her to interrogation, beatings and other torture, precedes a 'sentence' of roughly two to three years in a state detention facility, where the child frequently suffers additional torture and forced labor. This entire process unfolds without the child ever being offered legal counsel and without judicial oversight of any kind.

In another case, a fifteen-year-old boy from Shigatse was arrested for posting a picture of the Dalai Lama and writing 'Free Tibet' on the wall. He spent four months at a local jail, where he was frequently interrogated and beaten. He was then sent to Trisam for two years, where he gathered rocks for a construction project in shifts that ran from twenty-four to forty-eight hours. At no time during his detention did he receive either legal counsel or a judicial proceeding. In fact, our research suggests that, far from ensuring Tibetan children greater legal protection and rights as international law requires, detained children in Tibet receive no procedural rights. None of the children we interviewed who had been detained for 'political' activities reported receiving access to counsel, relatives or guardians of any kind prior to 'sentencing.' A thirteen-year-old nun who participated in a demonstration recalled:

[we] were at Gutsa for six months, then were tried at the court. At the court, the nuns petitioned for the Chinese to release me, since I was only thirteen, and there was no law for detaining young children. The court said it was not the court's business, and Gutsa alone would decide my length of imprisonment.

She was confined for a total of nearly two years at Gutsa, presumably at the discretion of its local authorities (the PSB). Another young child, eleven years old at the time of his arrest, spent a full year at Gutsa, where he suffered electric shocks and beatings. He, too, received no judicial hearing of any kind. In politically-nuanced cases, despite international requirements, a child's age appears to afford no extra protection - in fact, because the courts seem to refuse to address the detention of children, such youth may receive even less consideration that adults.

A Tibetan boy from Amdo ('Lobsang') who was detained on three separate occasions provides another representative example. In 1995, upon returning from India with documents from a Tibetan library, police detained seventeen-year-old Lobsang for one year and six months. He was not charged, not permitted to contact a lawyer and not even allowed to inform his family of his detention. He received no hearing. Again, however, he was 'sentenced' as a spy. Police officials interrogated him under torture and held him in solitary confinement in a small room without windows. The toilet was a small pot that he cleaned himself each week. Eventually, Lobsang managed to escape and made his way into permanent exile in India.

Another boy related an incident of politically-motivated detention at his primary school in Lhasa. Chinese teachers, he said, routinely administered electric shocks to Tibetan students who mentioned the Dalai Lama. On one occasion, after a close friend of his escaped to India, the Chinese school teacher placed him (then thirteen years old) in a dark room with no windows for four weeks. During this period, the teacher gave him only dried food and oil, tortured him with electric shocks (sometimes while he slept) and refused to allow him to go home at night.

Fewer young children participate directly in political activities. Those who do tend to be monks and nuns. But for these children, our research suggests that detention is routine and often arbitrary. Children apprehended for political activities are held at the discretion of non-judicial officials in severely substandard conditions and deprived of minimal needs, such as food, heat, clothing, adequate sanitation and hygiene items. Virtually every child suffers torture while confined. And upon transfer from a 'pre-sentencing' detention center to a prison or 'reeducation through labor' center, some children, like adult prisoners, must perform hard labor. Among those we interviewed, the average length of detention for children implicated in political activities appears to be about three years.

2. Detention for Attempted Flight to Nepal and India

Children detained for trying to flee Tibet appear to spend less time in confinement than those detained for alleged political activities. The conditions of their imprisonment and treatment in detention, however, do not differ much. Almost all of the children we interviewed encountered the Chinese army or police (and sometimes the Nepalese border patrol) on their journeys into exile. Thirteen had in fact been apprehended, some on more than one occasion, trying to escape Tibet. With only one exception - a ten-year-old boy who on his first attempt was instead robbed, tied to a truck and summarily returned to Tibet - every child caught fleeing had been detained unlawfully.

These children typically remained in detention for anywhere from a few days to several months. One seven-year-old boy, for example, was imprisoned for three days with his father, while a thirteen-year-old girl, who sought to escape with her younger brother as part of a group, was detained for two months at a facility near Shigatse. These disparities in the length of detention may be purely arbitrary. The interviews suggest, however, that children fleeing Tibet in large groups or in the company of guides (as opposed to family members) tend to be detained for longer periods and subjected to more severe mental and physical torture. This may well reflect the heightened degree of political significance that the Chinese authorities ascribe to organized efforts at flight.

The sites at which children seeking to flee Tibet are detained appear to be more a matter of expedience than design. Children reported detention at, among other places, police stations, prisons, army camps and even a private house. In some cases police confined all the children together in one cell. But often they were held together with adults whom they did not know and even with common criminals. International law generally forbids states from detaining children with adults. No child reported being held in a separate facility designed for children. Indeed, there is no evidence that any holding centers specifically designed to meet the special legal standards that govern the treatment of detained children exist in Tibet.

Living conditions for children detained for escape attempts were no different than those for political prisoners. One thirteen-year-old girl, apprehended on her second attempt to leave Tibet (in the company of a group), recalled her experience in detention centers near Shigatse:

We were put in a house [the first] night, all in one room. . . . It was cold, winter-time, but we weren't given any clothes or blankets. Before Shigatse, we stayed in four different prisons, about one week in each. . . . If we were freezing, they would give us boiled water and would charge us a lot for it. In Shigatse, we were kept together in one room with a toilet (about twelve of us, five children). We were kept in Shigatse about fifteen days. We weren't given any food. We ate tsampa [roasted barley meal] we had brought for our trip.

Children told us that guards provided little if any food: 'a little rice porridge in the morning and half a piece of bread and cabbage in the afternoon;' 'breakfast was soup and tea and sometimes they had tsampa flour;' 'one bowl of tsampa daily.' Health conditions were also poor. Toilets usually consisted of a single bucket that the children cleaned themselves. There was no access to clean water or other hygienic facilities. Cells rarely had windows or light. Though children often became physically sick from these deplorable conditions - or injured by beatings, forced labor and other torture - none of the children we spoke with received medical care.

Children apprehended attempting to flee Tibet, like those held on suspicion of political activity, suffered interrogation under torture. This consisted most frequently of beatings, but we also heard accounts of electric shocks with cattle prods, repeated thrashings with a horse whip and burns with hot iron. Torture and interrogation of children who sought to escape focused on their reason for leaving Tibet, possible connection to foreigners and, despite their age, suspected espionage. 'Where are you going? You are only a Tibetan, not a foreigner, and you are not allowed to go outside,' a young Chinese official scolded one child, an eleven-year-old girl whose grandmother had sent her abroad to get an education that she could not otherwise afford. He then slapped her face and kicked her in the hip. 'Since I didn't answer, I guess he was angry,' she said. Another young girl, thirteen years old at the time of her detention, described her interrogation:

One day, a Chinese official took us outside and asked us why we were going to India. The adults were taken to the back and the kids were slapped once or twice. They asked me who my parents were and where I lived. . . . There were ten officials there and if our answers weren't consistent, they'd slap us. I lied about my home-town, because I had been warned by my Mom not to say anything if I was caught. I was afraid they'd imprison my parents. . . . They said if I tried to escape again, they'd kill me.

Significantly, while some of the very youngest (below ten) children detained for seeking to flee Tibet were not themselves abused physically, several who had tried to escape with groups told us that police forced them to witness their parents, relatives and friends being beaten and tortured. A thirteen-year-old boy from Kham, only nine at the time of his detention, recalled: 'The Chinese would bring an adult in front of the children and ask, Why are you bringing children to India?' and then beat him in front of us, and it scared us.' Another young boy, only seven years old at the time of his first failed escape attempt, remembers that he cried because the police beat his father in front of him. These experiences are exceptionally traumatic for young children. Their routine use as a means of psychological torture appears to be a premeditated attempt to instill fear of Chinese authorities in Tibetan children from an early age.

3. Other Forms of Arbitrary Detention Encountered

Some children we interviewed also described detentions for what appear to have been fairly innocuous acts. One boy, for example, roughly twelve or thirteen years old at the time, was detained in a facility near Lhasa overnight and tortured after he had gone to search for his father, whom he feared had been arrested:

I went looking for him. The Chinese army saw me and called me to them. This was inside an army station. They asked me questions. I told them. They said I was lying and wanted to steal. They beat me with a rod that had red and green buttons [and] gave me an electric shock. I ran [but] they threw the rod at me, and I was hurt badly. I still have a scar. This happened in a dark room. . . . I was left there without food and water until the next day.

Another child, only eleven years old, was detained repeatedly in a PSB facility in Amdo because he protested the treatment of his friend at a Chinese hospital. Doctors at the hospital refused to care for his friend, who was severely sick with diarrhea, because the family could not afford to pay. The boy told us that his friend died at the doctor's feet and that two Chinese nurses laughed at the incident. Enraged, he posted signs 'all around' describing his friend's inhumane treatment at the hospital. For this behavior, the Chinese police arrested and interrogated him daily for one week.

Finally, a few children with whom we spoke had been detained at school, apparently as a form of 'discipline.' Several reported detention in a dark room for hours at a time. One boy, a nomad from Rudhog, recalled an incident that occurred when he was eleven years old: 'One time I fought with someone, and they put me in the dark room without food. They hit me first. I was scared that they would hit me in the dark room, but they didn't. I called to get out for the bathroom, but they wouldn't let me.' School detentions, like the more widespread instances of detention described above, represent flagrant violations of international human rights law.

Despite China's commitments under international law to protect children from arbitrary detention, our research suggests that detention of Tibetan children by Chinese police, military personnel and other officials is not uncommon. This confirms several previous reports. A recent article analyzing China's compliance with the CRC observed that '[i]n China, many cases have been reported about teenage children being held as political prisoners, sometimes in the same cells as adults. They have also been made to work like adult prisoners.' One reason for the persistence of these violations may be that the PRC's Criminal Procedure Law does not contain separate provisions governing the treatment of children, as the CRC requires. But the most significant problem, it seems, resides not in the absence of legislation to protect children, but in the chronic failure of PRC authorities to implement and enforce those laws that do exist. In fact, immediately prior to ratifying the CRC, China passed the Protection of Minors Act of 1991, which does extend to children some important rights recognized by the CRC. But as the non-governmental organization Human Rights in China and other monitors of the PRC's human rights practices have emphasized, the efficacy of these measures depends on their actual respect and enforcement: Laws and regulations designed to protect children are 'subject to administrative enforcement [and] widely ignored by official bodies of all kinds in China today.' Our research did not reveal a single case in which these laws were enforced - or even acknowledged - by the police and military officials who detained Tibetan children.

C. Torture -->