A Generation in Peril: The Lives of Tibetan Children Under Chinese Rule
V. Journeys Into Exile

A. Reasons for Traveling into Exile

Tibetan children overwhelmingly cited two reasons for choosing exile: to meet the Dalai Lama and to receive a better education. One boy, eleven years old at the time, left at his mother's urging because he had no themto pass and consequently could not afford school fees, which his mother had paid only by borrowing money and going without food herself. For others, however, the cost of education was less the issue than its content. Many children told us that their parents wanted them to have the opportunity to learn Tibetan classical language, culture, history and religion in an environment free from fear. Many also saw no future for themselves in Tibet, given its current economic, social and political environment.

Several children also said they left because their parents did not wish them to become 'spoiled' or corrupted by the effects of the Chinese occupation. One nomadic boy from Kham, for example, told us that his mother feared he would become a thief if he stayed in Tibet. In another representative case, a boy from Lhasa said his father sent him into exile because he felt that, under Chinese rule, Lhasa was becoming a 'city of sin,' with bars, cigarettes and rampant prostitution to which he did not want his son exposed. A Tibetan monk from Lhasa, now in exile, likewise commented that, since 1990, the prevalence of alcohol, cigarettes, violent films, brothels and other bad influences has increased dramatically, making it more difficult to raise children in an environment free from these forms of 'pollution.'

A few children - mainly the older ones - decided to leave Tibet on their own. In one case, for example, a brother and sisters escaped together at night without informing their parents, whom they knew might oppose the idea. And in a few other cases, adolescent monks and nuns, whose monasteries and nunneries had been subjected to 'patriotic reeducation,' chose to leave the country rather than betray their religious convictions.

Most children, however, left at the behest of or after consultation with their parents, many of whom felt strongly that, in Tibet, they could not provide their children with the upbringing or education that they wanted them to have. For instance, one Tibetan mother from Amdo explained that she had brought her son to India because the family could not afford to educate him in Tibet. In their native village, schooling cost 200 yuan per month, as well as 'gifts' of wheat and oil. As a result, the family moved to Lhasa, where they hoped to find better and less expensive schools. Instead, they discovered that primary school fees for 'out-of-area children' were 1,300 yuan per month. In India, by contrast, her son could receive a free education from a school sponsored by the Dalai Lama.

Another Tibetan mother from Lithang, a region of Kham, also cited education as the principal concern that motivated her to bring her six-year-old boy to India. First of all, she said, she could not afford the Chinese primary school's fees. Second, even if she could afford them, she knew from the experience of her elder child with the school that the education is poor, that teachers teach almost exclusively in Chinese, leading to high rates of failure among Tibetan students, and that Chinese teachers discriminate against Tibetan students, scoffing at them as 'not intelligent.' In India, however, she knew her son could attend a school run by the Tibetan government-in-exile, where he could learn Tibetan, English and vocational skills that would enable him to excel in life. For parents like these, the grave risks to their children and the personal tragedy of parting with them - often permanently - were outweighed by the harm they perceived their children to face growing up under Chinese rule.

B. Overview of the Journey -->