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

B. Overview of the Journey

In general, children travel in groups, in the company of other Tibetan refugees led by a hired guide - though some children (as young as five in one case) travel alone. The size of these groups ranges from a few family members to as large as nearly one hundred. One girl, for example, traveled with a group of fifty-eight others, whom she joined after driving by truck with her guide for seven days; the group then walked for fourteen days through the Himalayas to reach Nepal. Journeys often involve a combination of travel by vehicle (trucks or jeeps) followed by several weeks of walking through the mountains.

Most Tibetan guides appear to be trustworthy and competent. For a fee, which averages about 1,000 yuan, they make the necessary arrangements to get Tibetans to the border. Often, they accompany the group for most of the journey. But we heard a few accounts of abuse by guides: After his grandmother spent over 1,000 yuan to purchase an official pass for his travel, one five-year-old boy from Lhasa told us that she paid an additional 10,000 yuan to a Khampa to carry him to the border on his back. But when they reached 'the place where the snow started,' the boy said, the Khampa 'showed me a knife and made me walk.' He had no proper shoes and consequently suffered severe frostbite, which later required the amputation of his toes. 'My feet became full of sores and turned black, and when I came to Nepal, they cut them [my toes] off. When I walked in the snow, they became frostbitten.' In another case, a young boy recalled being abandoned by his group after reaching Nepal. 'I was abandoned in a vast corn field for six days . . . . I was very hungry. I had a blanket but not food, since the food was with the guide.' Fortunately, a Nepalese postman found and rescued him, turning him over to a Tibetan woman who then fed him and brought the boy to the Tibetan Refugee Reception Centre in Kathmandu.

Depending on the location in Tibet from which they begin, journeys into exile may take from a few days to as long as several months. One-month walks by foot through the Himalayas are not uncommon. During this time, Tibetan children must endure a harsh climate, physical exhaustion, injury and illness. Some do not survive the journey. Many children told us that fellow travelers, particularly younger children, died from the cold. One girl, eleven years old when she fled Tibet, reported that she carried a younger boy on her back after he developed severe frostbite that prevented him from walking; he eventually died while on her back. 'We saw dead bodies of small children,' another recalled. 'One was in a brick building. We also saw a broken skull. The child in the brick house was a little older or larger than me. It seemed she had died recently, because she wasn't just bones. I couldn't see so well, so I felt scared, and thought that I would die, too.'

Lack of food is another major peril. For four days, one girl related, she was forced to eat grass only. Another ate only ice and snow during three days when no food of any kind was available to her group. Of an initial party of seventy Tibetans, according to another boy we interviewed, only sixty-one made it safely to India; the others died or were lost on the journey. While most children do survive, few escape without some form of injury. Virtually all require medical treatment upon arrival in Nepal.

C. Harassment and Abuses by Authorities -->