The urgent need to defend Uyghur children and their families

At the time of writing, I am on ten weeks of maternity leave for my first born son. This little boy has quickly become one of the most important people to me. I bear personal responsibility for guarding his precious life and ensuring his safety.

While I have always understood the gravity and brutality of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghur Muslims, the birth of my son has given me a newfound appreciation for the depravity of the CCP’s strategy to separate child from parent.

This week, a new report from Bitter Winter revealed three videos of Uyghur boys, ages 5 to 11, who were forced to say they liked or wanted to join the People’s Liberation Army. They said it in Chinese, not Uyghur. They were urged by CCP officials to say what they said.

Video Credit: Bitter Winter, “Videos reveal the indoctrination and militarization of Uyghur children”

These boys are just a few of an estimated 900,000 Uyghur children who are separated from their parents in so-called boarding schools or live-in kindergartens. Although we have known about these programs for a long time thanks to the painstaking work of Chinese scholar Adrian Zenz, these videos provide evidence of the nature of the CCP’s indoctrination.

It is no secret that the CCP is trying to break up Uyghur families; the ultimate goal is to replace the family unit with the party. Some Uyghur children are effectively orphaned because both their parents are extrajudicially imprisoned in the CCP’s political detention camps, which are estimated to hold between 1.8 million and 3 million people. Others have sent parents to different parts of China as part of mass forced labor programs. Some children are never even born because the CCP subjects Uyghur women to forced abortion and forced sterilization.

Video Credit: Bitter Winter, “Videos reveal the indoctrination and militarization of Uyghur children”

The newly released videos are disturbing for many reasons. But this is what struck me. One of the most important questions a little one can be asked is what they want to be when they grow up. Most kids will answer something like a firefighter, a doctor, a teacher, or maybe even a president or world leader. These little boys swore allegiance — promised to give their lives — to the CCP. Their hopes and dreams are no longer theirs, but the party’s.

These little guys serve as additional justification for why policymakers and civil society activists must continue to defend the rights and freedoms of Uyghurs.

Uyghur children and their families must be at the center of our advocacy. Congress and the executive cannot stop until every camp is closed and every prisoner released. The Congressional-Executive Commission on China, the Select Committee on the CCP, or other committees should hold a hearing to investigate the CCP’s treatment of Uyghur children and identify those responsible for sanctions within the Chinese government for indoctrinating and imprisoning Uyghur children. Congress and the government should also grant priority 2 accelerated refugee status to Uyghur families facing persecution, providing them with a safe haven within our borders. Members of Congress must adopt detained Uyghur children, such as Rahile Omer, the youngest documented detainee (she was only 15 at the time of her detention in 2018), and advocate tirelessly for their release.

I am writing this piece while on maternity leave because if my son faced similar persecution, I would hope that others around the world would defend him, even if his mother couldn’t. There is a kinship in motherhood that transcends boundaries. Me and others stand with Uighurs separated from their beloved children. We will not back down until every Uyghur child is free to dream again.

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