Violence and Discrimination Against Tibetan Women

VI. Convention Article 10: Education

Article 10 of the Convention provides for equal rights of men and women in education, including the provision of scholarships and career and vocational guidance. Article 10 also mandates that States Parties address the need to reduce female student drop-out rates and for programs for girls and women who leave school prematurely. In addition, Article 3 provides that States Parties shall take appropriate measures in all fields to ensure the full development and advancement of women.

A.China's Assessment: "Vigorous Steps" to Promote Female Education

China's Report makes no specific reference to education in Tibet. It draws attention, however, to the discrepancy between urban and rural education, which provides some evidence of the situation in Tibet because the vast majority of Tibetans live in rural areas: 56.6 percent of urban girls and women complete senior middle school ("high school"), 33.3 percent complete only junior middle schools ("junior high") and 8.3 percent complete only primary school. Illiteracy among urban girls and women is only 2.1 percent. The picture is more dire for rural girls and women: only 8.9 percent complete "high school" or institutions of higher learning, 26.6 percent reach only middle school, and 27.9 percent have only a primary school education. China's Report also admits that an astonishing 36.6 percent of rural women and girls are illiterate or semi-literate.

China's Report also indicates, with no citation, that Chinese laws and regulations guarantee equal rights of men and women in education. It indicates "vigorous steps" to increase female higher education with no description of what those steps are. It points out "the Spring Bud Program" for drop-out school girls, although it is unclear to what extent the government itself is operating that program. ("Spring Bud" appears to have been set up by non-governmental organizations). One noteworthy claim is that "[i]n remote, poor and minority-inhabited regions, free schools or classes exclusively for girls are set up."

B.Our Assessment: No Support for Tibetan Girls

In 1996, TCHRD carried out a major investigation into education in Tibet and published the findings in The Next Generation: The State of Education in Tibet. TCHRD interviewed 50 children who had fled Tibet during the previous three years, 96 percent of whom had fled for reasons of education. It also drew on other reports and documents. The Mission interviewed fewer children, but also interviewed parents about education in Tibet.

Our combined investigations found little direct evidence of discrimination in education against Tibetan women and girls as such. We did, however, find substantial evidence of discrimination in education against Tibetans generally. The discrimination against Tibetans generally, the very high drop-out and illiteracy rates acknowledged by Chinese authorities among rural girls and women and confirmed by our interviews, and the apparent absence of programs to develop and advance Tibetan women's educational opportunities, leads us to conclude that Tibetan women may be suffering a disparate impact in educational opportunities as compared to Chinese men and women, and as compared to Tibetan men.

Most witnesses state that Tibetan girls and boys are treated equally, but that Tibetan girls were at a serious disadvantage compared to both Chinese boys and Chinese girls. We find it especially revealing that nearly 33 percent of Tibetan school-age children receive no education at all compared to a mere 1.5 percent of Chinese children. Several young adults interviewed during the Mission indicate that the primary reason for their flight to India was the inadequate educational system. Another person reported that the existence of widespread discrimination against Tibetans in employment deters Tibetan girls from continuing their education, since they and their families believe education provides no benefit. No person interviewed indicated an awareness of programs to address the higher drop-out rate for Tibetan girls. We found no other evidence that the Chinese authorities had established such programs.

All evidence indicates that education in Tibet is usually not free, with annual fees ranging from 20 to over 6,000 yuan (US $2 to $725) and many fees in the range of 200-300 yuan (US $24 to 36) per month -- unaffordable for most Tibetans. A mother from Phenpo indicates that because her children were unauthorized, the fee for them was double. Another confirms that fees vary according to whether the child had a "pass." A teacher from Tso Ngonpo (Amdo) reports that although the school in her area was supposed to be free, individual teachers demanded money from students or their parents. An internal TAR Party Committee document states that schools in the TAR are collecting 13 different kinds of fees from students, six of which were not legally authorized.

Even when Tibetan children attend school, they face serious barriers. A primary barrier is the use of Chinese as the teaching language in many schools in Tibet. At the middle school level in Tibet, only 17 percent of students attended schools where Tibetan was the main teaching language. One student commented to TCHRD:

My primary school was a Chinese government school. ... The main teaching language was Chinese. I did not understand the Chinese language well enough so I had to ask the teacher again and again. If most of the Tibetans did not understand his explanations he used to scold us, calling us "dirty Tibetans" or "stupid Tibetans" because we did not understand Chinese.

Added to the use of a "foreign" language for the Tibetan students is the issue of subject content that emphasizes Chinese culture at the expense of Tibetan culture. One student interviewed during the Mission notes that her father had removed her from school at the age of 14 because he felt the education "was all indoctrination." Another student, who completed the sixth grade in Kham in 1993, reported that school officials told Tibetans that they would be "burned with hot irons from a stove" if they engaged in "political protests." Another school-aged girl was never even permitted to attend school because she was the daughter of a "separatist":

I'm illiterate . . . I regret I could never go to school. Every one else knows how to write their names, but I cannot even sign my name on a piece of paper.

Other information indicates that education for Tibetans is getting worse. Chen Kuiyang, the Chinese Communist Party's Party Secretary in Tibet, admitted that school attendance is low and dropping, and he acknowledged that the Tibetan illiteracy rate is the highest for any region in China and the highest of any minority group.

An additional concern, especially in light of the evidence of discrimination against Tibetans generally, is the possible prevalance of sexual harassment of Tibetan girls by Chinese teachers. One witness described to the Mission "rampant" sexual harassment of Tibetan girls in her school:

In school, the Chinese teachers used to touch us and pull us into rooms. They molested only the Tibetan girls . . . I wanted to complain. I used to cry at home a lot. Finally, my mother was so disgusted that she took me out of school. . . Many girls had this problem.

Our investigations failed to uncover any laws, training programs or complaint mechanisms functioning in Tibet to address sexual harassment of Tibetan girls in school.


Table of Contents

Back to Reports list