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

D. Corporal Punishment and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment in Schools

[The Chinese teacher] asked if we had done our homework. We said we turned it in already. He said we were lying. He made us kneel on broken glass. He made us pull up our pants. I kneeled for a whole period, about one hour. My knees bled I still have a scar. . . . Then [he] broke some glass and kicked it into my shin. Some of the glass stuck in my leg, and I bled. . . . -Nine years old

Teachers employ corporal punishment routinely in primary schools in Tibet. Roughly one-half of the children we interviewed reported corporal punishment at schools. Of those who did not, most either could not attend school at all (usually because of poverty and high fees) or received primary education at a Tibetan monastery. For Tibetan children, corporal punishment in educational institutions therefore appears to be the rule. The phrase 'corporal punishment,' however, may be misleading. It should not be understood here to suggest the use of minor physical punishment to discipline children who misbehave in class. As the CRC Committee emphasized, corporal punishment of any kind constitutes a form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. In fact, our research indicates that much of the corporal punishment that Tibetan children suffer rises to the level of torture. Moreover, corporal punishment against Tibetan children is often politically motivated.

We found that teachers beat children with sticks, bamboo staffs, whips, wires, brooms and belts, shocked some with cattle prods, made others kneel for several hours on glass, sharp stones or rectangular iron bars, forced one child to hold ice in his hands for an hour and locked another child in a dark room for four weeks. Tibetan children also described being publicly humiliated, slurred and subjected to other acts of degrading treatment by their teachers and administrative staff. These acts were thus committed 'by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official.' Many interviewees also said that, as Tibetans, they suffered more severe punishments than their Chinese peers. Most 'corporal punishment' described to us by Tibetan children therefore constitutes torture, precisely as this term is defined in international law. We discuss the educational issues that Tibetan children face in the next section. But corporal punishment in Tibetan schools is not an issue about the quality of the education they provide.

1. Common Forms of Corporal Punishment

Beatings were the most common form of corporal punishment related; indeed, they appear to be regular practice in many of Tibet's primary schools. Teachers reportedly struck children with a wide assortment of implements, often causing bleeding and in several cases gashes that required stitches. When Tibetan students did not study Chinese well, one thirteen-year-old girl from Lhasa told Lawyers for Tibet, the teacher forced them to lie on a table and then struck them with a broom. Another boy, ten years old at the time, reported that at his primary school in Lhasa, the teacher kicked and beat him with a metal wire for lateness and 'small errors.' Whippings were also common, another boy (under the age of ten at the time of his schooling) from Lhasa recalled: 'If you talked just a little bit, the Chinese language teacher would beat you [with a piece of thin bamboo].'

Still others recounted beatings for falling asleep in class, poor exam performance, failure to turn in homework and - in mixed schools - for fighting with Chinese students. One girl who attended a mixed school in Kham told us that the Chinese instructor beat her for failing to wear a special red scarf. According to this girl, under the age of twelve at the time, the teacher gave the scarf to 'better students,' which meant those who performed well in class (though she had also been told that it symbolized the 'death of her country'). After she lost the scarf and failed to wear it in class, the Chinese instructor kicked her several times, took off her trousers and beat her so badly that she could not attend school for two days. When she returned, the teacher forced her to sweep and clean the toilets for one week.

Another form of corporal punishment that many children described was being forced to kneel in various painful positions; for example, on glass or sharp rocks. One boy, under the age of ten at the time, described being forced to kneel for two to three hours on a rectangular iron bar with a sharp point in the middle. For a minor misbehavior, he knelt on the flat surface; for a more serious infraction, the teacher forced him to kneel on the sharp point. Kneeling for prolonged periods appears to be a fairly common form of punishment for lateness.

2. Discrimination in Mixed Primary Schools

In mixed schools - those attended by both Tibetan and Chinese students - nearly every Tibetan student reported discrimination in the administration of corporal punishment by his or her Chinese teachers. Some children told us that only the Tibetan children received corporal punishment, while others reported seeing Chinese students beaten on rare occasions, but far less severely. Several said that, if they fought with Chinese students, even in self-defense, they would be punished physically, but Chinese students would receive no beating or only a verbal scolding. Evidence of discrimination also emerged in accounts of humiliation or degrading treatment to which Tibetan children were subjected. For example, one girl, roughly ten years old at the time, said that Chinese teachers at her primary school in Lhasa verbally harassed Tibetan students by calling them 'meh,' which she said is a terrible word in Tibetan, meaning the person does not exist. ('Meh' is a derogatory pronoun for women in colloquial Tibetan with no exact equivalent in English.) Another boy, roughly eight or nine years old at the time, recalled similar incidents at his primary school in Lhasa: '[The] Chinese teacher would call us keh' [the male equivalent of meh'].'

Tibetan children who refused to recite the Chinese pledge of allegiance at his primary school in Chamdo, another student reported, were not permitted to eat in the afternoon and humiliated publicly: '[T]hey would make us stand in front of everyone and embarrass us. They would say, This student doesn't study well and is not Chinese.'' Still another student, who attended a primary school in Lhasa, related several unusual punishments with chair legs and stones, which he said were reserved for Tibetan students only and were inflicted in front of the rest of the class.

Several students said that protesting corporal punishment was useless because most of the school authorities were Chinese government officials. One boy, for example, from a primary school in Amdo, believed that it would have been futile to request protection from his teachers after Chinese classmates attacked him. 'If we go and complain,' he explained, 'the Chinese fathers are the police. Most of the parents of the Chinese students are officials.' Others said they had been threatened with retribution against their parents if they complained.

3. Corporal Punishment and Political Activity

With respect to corporal punishment - as with torture and detention - the most severe cases appear to involve acts with perceived political significance. For example, during an assembly at his primary school in Kham, one Tibetan boy failed to hold the Chinese flag as required, though it was unclear from our interview whether this was an intentional protest, a mistake or simply a result of his fatigue. Whatever the reason, school authorities punished this boy by pricking him repeatedly with a pin and burning the area around the wounds with a stick of incense. In another case, one child told us, a teacher at his school in Lhasa discovered graffiti reading 'Free Tibet' in a bathroom. The Chinese principal then called Tibetan students daily and at random to ask them who wrote it. If they replied that they did not know, the principal accused them of lying and beat them.

Another boy, under thirteen at the time, reported that Tibetan students in his Lhasa primary school who talked about the Dalai Lama were taken to another room and given electric shocks to the temples from an object resembling a hand radio. When a friend of his escaped to India, this same child was imprisoned in a dark room for four weeks, given shocks and deprived of adequate food and water. According to this boy, in some instances Chinese school teachers would arrange for students to be driven by jeep to the police, who would themselves administer electric shocks and detain children for talking about the Dalai Lama or engaging in other acts deemed 'political.' This cooperation between primary school authorities and state police is striking. It again suggests that the Chinese government's intense preoccupation with political control in Tibet extends even to young children. It also underscores a broader conclusion about the educational system in Tibet to which our evidence points: that it is intended less to prepare Tibetan children to be productive members of a modern society than it is to secure political compliance among a resentful population.

Corporal punishment thus emerges as a regular practice in Tibet's schools. Teachers physically punish students for lateness, misbehavior and poor performance in class or on exams, as well as for expressions of their religious beliefs and political opinions. Punishments range from public humiliation and 'light' beatings to whippings, electric shocks, solitary confinement and other severe physical abuse. Chinese students may be subject to corporal punishment on a lesser scale. But our findings, coupled with evidence of widespread discriminatory treatment of Tibetan students by Chinese teachers at mixed schools, suggests that its prevalence may reflect, at least in part, ethnic discrimination and political motives. All corporal punishment constitutes cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and our evidence suggests that corporal punishment in Tibetan schools often rises to the level of torture. These practices violate basic legal obligations that China has assumed under the CRC and the Convention Against Torture.

On to Section II - EDUCATION -->