Tibetan Women
Oppression and Discription in Occupied Tibet

National Report on Tibetan Women

Issued by
The Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala, India
the Fourth World Conference on Women
Beijing, September 4-15, 1995



Executive Summary

Tibetan women under Chinese occupation

ONE: The status of Tibet before 1959

TWO: The status of Tibetan women before the Chinese occupation

THREE: The status of Tibetan women under Chinese occupation
3.1 China's lack of commitment to internationally-recognized standards of women's human rights
3.2 Claims of equality of Tibetan women: Discrepancy between theory and practice
3.3 Tibetan women: Impact of population transfer and military exploitation

FOUR: Occupation and its impact on the political rights of Tibetan girls and women
4.1 The persecution of Tibetan women for exercise of their fundamental civil and political rights
4.1 a. Women prisoners of conscience
4.2 Young girls as political prisoners: Abuse of human rights
4.2.a. Documented abuses of Tibetan girl prisoners
4.2.b. violations of Chinese law and international human rights law
4.3 violence against Tibetan women: Torture and sexual abuse of women activists

and those in custody
4.4 Death in custody

FIVE. Birth-control policy in Tibet

SIX. Increasing poverty and its consequence on women

6.1 An overview of the political-economic situation in Tibet
6.2 Poverty and women
6.2.a. Tibetan women and education
6.2.b. Education before the Chinese invasion
6.2.b.i. Education in Tibet today
6.2.c. Tibetan women and health
6.2.c.i. Pregnancy and medical abuse
6.2.c.ii. Medical neglect in Chinese prisons
6.2.c.iii. Threats to Tibetan women's health due to life-threatening toxic materials,

environmental hazards
6.2.d. Tibetan women and unemployment

Refugee Women: Tibetan women in exile

ONE. Tibetan women refugees in flight: A perilous journey

TWO. Economic displacement and women in exile
2.1 Employment
2.2 Education
2.3 Health

THREE. Power sharing and decision making at all levels


Recommendation for the Draft Platform for Action


Appendix (Women prisoners' list, etc.)


This national report on Tibetan women is the first of its kind, prepared by the Women's Issues Desk of the Department of Information and International Relations, Tibetan Government-in- Exile. The report documents the conditions of Tibetan women inside occupied-Tibet as well as in exile. It touches upon the concerns of Tibetan women.

Traditionally, Tibetan women enjoyed a higher social status than their counterparts in many other societies. They also played an active part in the affairs of family and society. Since the occupation of Tibet by Chinese military forces, Tibetan women have suffered oppression, exploitation, subjugation and discrimination.

Women in occupied-Tibet are the innocent victims of the policies of a powerful force that seeks to completely wipe out the Tibetan national identity. While the world debates the legitimacy and morality of abortions, women in Tibet are subjected to involuntary and forced abortions and sterilizations, designed to reduce the growth of the Tibetan population as part of a larger strategy to destroy Tibetan national and ethnic identity. Abortions and sterilizations are conducted without adequate medical facilities or in unhygienic conditions. Furthermore, Tibetan women suffer disadvantage in areas of education, employment, health and administrative services.

Tibetan women also played a leading role in the Tibetan national movement and they continue to oppose the Chinese colonial rule in Tibet as a result of which they are subjected to arbitrary arrests, long prison sentences without trial, severe torture and abuse in police custody. Many women prisoners of conscience, including teenagers, have succumbed to death from severe torture in custody.

Tibetan women in exile also suffered as a result of displacement and dislocation of normal life. However, in comparison with those in Tibet, women in exile enjoyed equal opportunity in education and job. They were given special consideration in political representation to encourage greater role in public affairs.

We hope that this brief report on Tibetan women will give an overall view of the status of women in Tibetan society and in particular the true situation of women in occupied-Tibet. When the women's conference is taking place in Beijing, it is important to have a closer look at the actual situation of Tibetan women living under Chinese occupation.

Tempa Tsering
Department of Information and International Relations
Central Tibetan Administration
Dharamsala India

Tibetan women Peace, development and equality

Executive summary

THE Women's Desk at the Tibetan Government-in-Exile's Department of Information and International Relations has compiled this report to highlight the particular concerns of Tibetan women inside Tibet and those living as refugees in exile. In doing so, it is our hope that the deplorable situation of Tibetan women under Chinese military domination and exploitation will be taken into consideration whilst the Draft Platform for Action is being discussed. This report also includes a list of recommendations which, it is hoped, will serve as inputs to the discussions for the Draft Platform.

Under the Chinese Communist regime, the Tibetan people have suffered and continue to suffer inconceivable atrocities. Tibet and the Tibetan people are victims of military occupation, human rights abuse, and discrimination. Reports received from Tibet, including reports from Amnesty International and other human rights groups, testify to massive violation of human rights in Tibet. Discrimination is cast large over the Chinese policy in Tibet. Violence and torture are often used in silencing Tibetans. It is against these larger problems of the Tibetan people that this report concerning Tibetan women both inside occupied Tibet and in exile must be seen.

Tibetan women suffer from two kinds of violations: those that are shared by all Tibetans, regardless of gender; and those that are specific to women.

As Tibetans, they are victims of occupation, arbitrary arrest, torture, violation of freedom of speech and assembly, restrictions on freedom of religion, and on freedom of travel. As women they are subjected to forced birth control, abortions and sterilization against their wishes or without informed consent. Tibetan women are the victims of a coercive birth-control policy aimed at reducing the Tibetan population in Tibet into an insignificant minority. This is done on the one hand by increasing the number of Chinese settlers inside Tibet and on the other hand by decreasing the number of Tibetan inhabitants through birth-control policy. They are arbitrarily arrested, detained and tortured in custody for peaceful expression of their political beliefs. They suffer rape and sexual violence while in police custody which sometimes results in deaths. Three custodial deaths of Tibetan women have been recorded in this year alone. Tibetan women are discriminated in the field of education, employment, and health.

The Chinese occupation of Tibet has also placed Tibetan women in a low socio-economic class, where before they were economically stable. It is true that before the Chinese occupation of Tibet, the position of women in Tibet was not one of equality. But compared to most of our Asian neighbours, especially China, the position of Tibetan women was considerably good if not one of equality. There has been some improvement in the relative position of women in Tibet in the past forty years, but progress has been much slower than elsewhere in the world and definitely much slower than the Tibetan community in exile

Tibetan women's access to education is limited: first, because the medium of education is the Chinese language, and secondly, the price of education in Tibet is very high. In fact, many women and girls are escaping to India, to seek adequate education in exile. Unemployment is also a problem as a large proportion of jobs and small businesses are reserved for the Chinese settlers who are given economic incentives to settle in Tibet to the disadvantage of Tibetans.

Tibetan Women also have to face many problems in the health care system which is discriminatory. There have been reported cases of medical abuse of pregnant women and inadequate medical facilities and attention for women and girl prisoners of conscience. The absence of adequate medical care has been the cause of several reported deaths of women and girl political prisoners. Threats to Tibetan women's health also exist due to health threatening toxic materials and environmental hazards from the nuclear dumping and testing that China conducts in certain areas of Tibet.

To tackle the issue of human rights violations suffered by Tibetan women and all women, women all over the world need to come together to chalk out strategic goals and their means of implementation. There is much to be done in upgrading the status of women in the developing countries and countries under foreign occupation. Tibet is an occupied country and Tibetan women continue to suffer due to this fact.

Tibetan women under Chinese occupation

ONE. The status of Tibet before 1959

THE territory of Tibet largely corresponds to the geological plateau of Tibet, which consists of 2.5 million square kilometres. At different times in history, wars were fought and treaties signed concerning the precise location of boundaries.

The Government of Tibet was headquartered in Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet. It consisted of the Head of State (the Dalai Lama), a Council of Ministers (the Kashag), a National Assembly (the Tsongdu), and an extensive bureaucracy to administer the vast territory of Tibet. The judicial system was based on that developed by Emperor Songtsen Gampo (seventh century), Lama Jangchub Gyaltsen (fourteenth century), the Fifth Dalai Lama (seventeenth century) and the Thirteenth Dalai Lama (twentieth century), and was administered by a magistrate appointed by the Government.

The population of Tibet at the time of the Chinese invasion was approximately six million. Tibetans as a people are distinct from the Chinese and other neighbouring peoples. Not only have the Tibetans never considered themselves to be Chinese, the Chinese have also not regarded the Tibetans to be Chinese.

On the eve of China's military invasion, which started at the close of 1949, Tibet possessed all the attributes of independent statehood recognized under international law: a defined territory, a population inhabiting that territory, a government, and the ability to enter into international relations.

Nepal, Bhutan, Britain, China and India maintained diplomatic missions in Tibet's capital, Lhasa. The Tibetan Foreign Office also conducted limited relations with the United States when President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent emissaries to Lhasa to request assistance for the Allied War effort against Japan during the Second World War. Also during the four UN General Assembly debates on Tibet in 1959, 1960, 1961 and 1965, many countries expressly referred to Tibet as an independent country illegally occupied by China.

Tibet's independent foreign policy is perhaps most obviously demonstrated by the country's neutrality during World War II. Despite strong pressure from Britain, the U.S. and China to allow the passage of military supplies through Tibet to China when Japan blocked the strategically vital "Burma Road", Tibet held fast to its declared neutrality. The Allies were constrained to respect this.

The Chinese takeover constituted an aggression on a sovereign state and violation of international law. The continued occupation of Tibet by China, with the help of several hundred thousand troops, represents an ongoing violation of international law and of the fundamental rights of the Tibetan people to independence.

On March 17, 1959 His Holiness the Dalai Lama left Lhasa to seek political asylum in India. He was followed by an unprecedented exodus of Tibetans into exile. Never before, in the long history of Tibet, had so many Tibetans been forced to leave their homeland and under such difficult circumstances. There are now more than 130,000 Tibetan refugees scattered over India and the world.

China tries to justify its occupation and repressive rule of Tibet by pretending that it "liberated" Tibetan society from "medieval feudal serfdom" and "slavery". Beijing trots out this myth to counter every international pressure to review its repressive policies in Tibet.

Traditional Tibetan society was by no means perfect. It was in need of changes, which His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama initiated as soon as he assumed temporal authority in Tibet. However, it was not as bad as China would have us believe. And it certainly was not a "serfdom". As far back as 1960, the International Commission of Jurists' Legal Inquiry Committee reported, "Chinese allegations that the Tibetans enjoyed no human rights before the entry of the Chinese were found to be based on distorted and exaggerated accounts of life in Tibet."

Whatever the case may be, the Chinese justification for "liberation" are invalid. First of all, international law does not accept justifications of this type. No country is allowed to invade, occupy, annex and colonize another country just because its social structure does not please it. Secondly, China is responsible for bringing more suffering in the name of liberation. Thirdly, necessary reforms were initiated by the Tibetan themselves, who were quite capable of carrying them through.

1.1 Tibetan women: Impact of population transfer and military exploitation

THE transfer of civilians by an occupying power into the territory it occupies is a violation of international law, according to the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. However, it is a practice which many occupying powers, colonial administrations and totalitarian rulers have used and still use to break resistance to their rule and consolidate control over the territory. China is implementing the same policy in Tibet. Begun as early as 1949, when China started the invasion of Tibet, this policy poses the greatest threat to the survival of the Tibetan nation and people.

In Lhasa alone, there were 50,000 to 60,000 ordinary Chinese residents in 1985. From 1988 additional Chinese immigrants doubled the population of Lhasa. That this development created problems for the Tibetan population was also recognized by the " of four in China. Why should Tibet spend its money to feed them?... Tibet has suffered greatly because of the policy of sending a large number of useless people. The Chinese population in Tibet started with a few thousand and today it has multiplied manifold".

Besides the influx of Chinese settlers into Tibet, the presence of a large military force in Tibet poses a serious threat to the Tibetan people's human rights and freedom. Tibetan women are being subjected to a major security operation to crush the independence movement and all manifestations of so-called "splittist activities". The government, the police, the army, the judicial system and the legal system are collaborating in the crackdown. The number of PLA troops in Tibet is estimated to be around 300,000, though accurate figures are difficult to obtain. The armed police and other special forces are responsible for arbitrarily arresting, beating and obstructing Tibetan women from exercising their fundamental freedoms such as freedom of assembly and expression. The Public Security Bureau and the People's Armed Police also engage in sexual abuse of Tibetan women whilst they are in their custody.

Two. The status of Tibetan women before the Chinese occupation

TIBETAN women before the Chinese occupation belonged to a distinct culture which has been preserved in exile. Today the Chinese law dictates that Tibetan culture can only be exercised within the parameters of Chinese rule.

It is necessary gain an understanding of the history of Tibetan women to understand the situation and plight of Tibetan women today.

In the annals of Suishu and T'ang shu-Sui and T'ang dynasty (around the second century AD), there is a reference to the existence of a "women's kingdom" in southeastern Tibet. In this kingdom, the society is described as being matriarchal and matrilineal where political power appeared to have been in the hands of women. Matriliny is also suggested in a Tibetan text of aphorisms from Tun-huang that may be connected to a female-dominated society of the fifth century Sum-pa people. In Tibetan history one also finds that there were times when certain individual women played prominent roles in determining the social development of the Tibetan nation. The mothers of the Tibetan emperors in the period between the seventh and the ninth centuries AD, for instance, are believed to have played active roles in the polity of the state.

In the recent past also Tibetan women have proved themselves to be able administrators and courageous warriors. Miu Gyalmo Palchen Tso took over the work of her ailing husband and governed the province of Amdo with amazing energy. She was a great warrior and shrewd administrator. Similarly Jago Tsewang Dolma was an influential woman and far-sighted administrator in the court of Derge, Kham. Khangsar Yangchen Dolma was a brilliant warrior and chief of the Karze area in Kham, eastern Tibet. Ngarong Chime Dolma was another powerful and brave officer who personally led her soldiers into battlefields with great success. However, she was later captured and killed by the Chinese forces.

Before 1949, Tibetans engaged in a mixed economy consisting of agriculture, animal husbandry and trade. Both men and women engaged in all three activities. Women contributed significantly to agricultural and pastoral pursuits and also engaged in trading activities, in which they held the major decision-making authority. There was some division of labor along gender lines. It was, however, not rigid. A woman's economic contribution to the household was considered significant. Because of the tendency towards extensive social and economic equality in our society, there was no sharply defined division between the kind of work to be done by men and women. In fact, a certain flexibility was prevalent and the division of labor was seen as complementary rather than exploitative.

We can also gain an insight into the position of women by looking at the patterns of marriage and household organization. Marriage arrangements included monogamous, polyandrous and polygamous alliances. Divorce and remarriage (including widow marriage) were acceptable. Polygamy was just as common as polyandry, though both were by no means widespread. They were accepted in some regions to sustain family and social networks and to keep estates undivided, without infringing the rights to which men and women were accustomed. Arranged marriages were the norm but only the daughter, upon marriage, would remain with her family. Her husband would enter her family. Then, upon the death of the household head, the daughter, and not her husband, would head the family estate. At the same time, the possibility of remaining unmarried was open to both men and women.

Buddhism played a significant role in the lives of Tibetan women. Although the number of monks is greater than that of nuns, becoming a nun provided an alternative and positive role for women in society. Becoming a nun was a matter of choice. Prior to 1959, there were 270 nunneries with over 15,600 nuns throughout Tibet. Besides, many nuns lived in small groups in retreat communities or hermitages.

The Chinese authorities have time and again tried to portray traditional Tibetan society in a negative light to legitimize their "liberation of a nation which endured in backwardness even in this modern age". It is true that in the past Tibetan women did not feature prominently in the political and administrative aspects of Tibetan history. However, all the great nations of today went through periods of feudalism, slavery, casteism and other medieval evils. At no point of history were the Tibetan women subjected to foot-binding, veiling, dowry or concubinage. It is not fair to compare the status of Tibetan women in the past to that of present under Chinese occupation. It is more justified to compare Tibetan women in Tibet with their counterparts in exile. The women in Tibet enjoy none of the human rights and freedom that are taken for granted in exile.

THREE. The status of Tibetan women under Chinese occupation

3.1 China's lack of commitment to internationally-recognized standards of women's human rights

THE status of Tibetan women must be seen in terms of human rights dimensions of gender violence and inequality. The Chinese are violating the fundamental human rights of Tibetan women, such as the reproductive rights, right to education, right to be free from discrimination, coercion and violence.

China is bound by the objectives and obligations arising from its accession to the convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women [1979] (CEDAW) which it signed on November 4, 1980. Upon signing CEDAW China became bound to recognize its objectives, one being

"Emphasizing that the eradication of apartheid, all forms of racism, racial discrimination, colonialism, neo-colonialism, aggression, foreign accupation and domination and interference in the internal affairs of states is essential to the full enjoyment of the rights of men and women."

China often quotes the laws that it has passed to establish the argument that it is protecting the fundamental rights of Tibetan women. A Chinese report on Tibetan women even stated recently that:

"The basic principles underlying legislation for women in China are: Equal rights for men and women, protecting women's special rights and interests, and banning discriminating against, maltreating, injuring, and killing women. Women in Tibet, a provincial level autonomous region in China, are certainly protected by Chinese laws enacted for all women in China."(1)

A study of the manner in which these laws are implemented highlights the great discrepancy between law in theory and law in practice. The continued discrimination of Tibetan women in the fields of health and education, their arbitrary arrests, detention and torture without fair trials are the indicators of this discrepancy. In addition, Tibetan women also suffer physically and mentally under a stringent and irrational birth-control policy which dictates how women's lives and their reproductive roles will be determined. Human rights are also women's right and should apply to Tibetan women as well.

3.2 Claims of the equality: Discrepancy between theory and practice

IN addition to the great discrepancy between law in theory and in practice (which this report will serve to highlight), law in theory, itself, reveals its discriminatory attitudes towards women.

A Chinese report on Tibetan women recently stated that:

"Freedom of marriage has become the general concept of contemporary Tibetan women. Women's right to divorce and remarry is duly guaranteed, thus improving the quality of marriage and the stability of the family, and laying the foundation for equal rights between husband and wife". In October 1994 the 'Mother and Child Health Law' was passed by the National People's Congress, to take effect from June 1995. The law delegates discretionary power to Chinese officials who can prevent marriages and births from occurring on certain grounds. Besides, these grounds involve a determination of the mental and physical health of the parents. The official can decide not to grant the relevant couple approval if one is suffering from a mental or hereditary disease which is serious and likely to affect others.

"Therefore, a couple who wishes to marry must first go through a medical examination. If the doctor concludes that one or both of the couple have either a mental disorder or hereditary disease, then the couple will be denied permission to marry. The aim of the regulations is to ensure that the couples that procreate will have healthy babies.

"If there is a risk of the couple producing deformed or unhealthy babies then they must divorce. This law also dictates the abortion of all foetuses identified as mentally or physically handicapped, as well as abortions for and/or sterilization of women suffering from mental instability, hereditary or infectious diseases."(2)

FOUR. Occupation and its impact on the political rights of Tibetan girls and women

4.1 The persecution of Tibetan women for the exercise of their fundamental civil and political rights:

CHINA has imprisoned hundreds of Tibetan political activists since the invasion and occupation of Tibet, many of them being women and young girls. Amnesty International said, in a report released in June this year, that there were 628 prisoners held in the "TAR" jails by the end of 1994 for their political beliefs, including 182 women and forty five persons under the age of eighteen and some as young as twelve. A 1994 report by Tibet Information Network, a London-based independent news monitor, stated that out of 255 political prisoners in Lhasa's Drapchi Prison, sixty eight were women; in 1991 this prison held only twenty three women prisoners. (See Appendix I for a partial list of Tibetan women political prisoners).

Fifty nuns were reportedly arrested in connection with peaceful independence activities in Tibet during the first quarter of 1995. More arrests were made during the first three months of the year than in the whole of 1994.

The majority of these women political prisoners were sexually abused via torture techniques, and received no medical attention for injuries suffered. The following are the stories of some Tibetan girl and women prisoners of conscience:

4.1.a. Women prisoners of conscience

WOMEN make up nearly a third of the hundreds of political prisoners held in Tibet. Many have been tortured. Amnesty International's report "Women in China" states that by far the largest group of female political prisoners known to Amnesty International in China is imprisoned in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Ven. Phuntsog Nyidron (nun), at the time of her arrest was twenty four years old. She was arrested on October 14, 1989 along with fourteen other nuns for participating in the peaceful demonstration held in the Bakhor area, in the old town of Lhasa. The demonstration called for an end to the Chinese occupation in Tibet. On October 8, 1993, she, along with thirteen other nun inmates, sang a song for the independence of Tibet and His Holiness the Dalai Lama in front of the prison guards. The authorities reacted to the song by extending her prison sentence by eight more years. Serving a total of seventeen years in Drapchi prison, Phuntsog Nyidron is now the longest serving, known woman political prisoner in Tibet. Phuntsog Nyidron, incidentally, was a nominee for the 1995 Reebok Human Rights Award.

Fourteen nuns from Garu nunnery were sentenced to prison terms ranging from two to seven years for their alleged participation in a demonstration, which, unofficial sources in Tibet claim, never actually took place. The nuns were arrested on June 14, 1993, a day when no demonstration in or near Lhasa was reported. Sources from the city believe the nuns were arrested before they managed to begin a protest. Among the nuns arrested that day was the thirteen-year-old Gyaltsen Pelsang, who died in February 1995, shortly after her parole for medical treatment. Informed sources attribute her death to constant torture in captivity.

4.2 Young girls as political prisoners: abuse of human rights

IN May 1995 Amnesty International released a report expressing its particular concern about the number of youths that were being detained and imprisoned for taking part in peaceful demonstrations -- "some of them were only twelve years old".(3)

Among the female political prisoners arrested between 1991 and 1994, at least eleven, under the age of eighteen at the time of their arrests, were reportedly still in detention in December 1994. Of them, seven were under eighteen in 1994.(4)

Amnesty International recently stated in a report on human rights violations in Tibet that:

"..youths, like adults, have been subjected to beatings, electric shocks, solitary confinement and deprivation of sleep, food or drink as punishment. Beatings by the police are reported to be particularly common." (5)

4.2.a. Documented abuses of Tibetan girl prisoners

WOMEN prisoners of conscience are particularly vulnerable to torture or ill-treatment as police officials attempt to extract information or confessions from them in order to formalize the arrest or justify their detention. There have been frequent reports from prisons of degrading methods of torture for the purpose of extracting confessions. These include setting of guard dogs on prisoners, use of electric batons especially on women prisoners in extremely perverted and degrading manners, inflicting cigarette burns, administration of shock, etc. One recent refugee from eastern Tibet, who was a member of the Chinese Public Security Bureau, described thirty-three methods of torture of prisoners.

Below are several accounts of Tibetan girls who have been reported tortured or ill-treated.

At least a dozen Tibetans, aged fifteen or younger, most of the them nuns, have been imprisoned for political offenses. Many, like Gyaltsen Pelsang, never received sentences and were held without any indication as to when they would be released. Gyaltsen Pelsang was reported to have been aged fifteen at the time of her arrest but it is now believed that she was aged thirteen when she was detained. According to our sources, she was held in Gurtsa Detention Center, outside Lhasa, where the majority of young Tibetan Political prisoners are held, often without charge or trial.

Three nuns from Michungri nunnery near Lhasa - Jampa Dedrol, Tenzin Dekyong and Ngawang Drolma, all of them aged fourteen or fifteen - spent up to a year without trial in Gurtsa in 1993 after staging a demonstration on March 13, 1993.

The youngest of the recent prisoners is Sherab Ngawang, a Michungri nun who was formally sentenced by the "Re-education-Through-Reform" Committee to three years in detention. She was only twelve years old at the time of her arrest. She died recently due to torture in police custody. Three years was the maximum sentence that could be imposed by the committee. Under the Chinese law Sherab was too young to be sentenced, and it has been suggested that the Chinese authorities were unaware of her age. However, a court document obtained by the Tibet Information Network in London, suggests otherwise. It says that she was too young to be tried with the other demonstrators, meaning the authorities knew she was under sixteen.

Jampa Dedrol was fifteen at the time of her arrest on June 14, 1993. She had been a novice at Michungri nunnery near Lhasa. She was reportedly arrested for peacefully demonstrating in Lhasa, and taken to Gurtsa Detention Centre. There has been no recent news of her whereabouts.

Tenzin Dekyong, a novice at Michungri nunnery near Lhasa, was sixteen at the time of her arrest during a peaceful demonstration in Lhasa on March 13, 1993. Reports suggest that she was beaten at the time of her arrest and subsequently taken to Gurtsa Detention centre. According to China's laws, "abuse", "corporal punishment" and "maltreatment" of "offenders" are "strictly forbidden".(6)

4.2.b. Violations of Chinese law and international human rights law

THE ill-treatment meted out to young detainees in Tibet violates international human rights treaties which China is legally bound to observe. The People's Republic of China signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on August 29, 1990 and ratified it on March 2, 1992. Article 37(b) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states that:

"No child shall be deprived of his/her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time"

Article 37(a) also states that:

"No child shall be subjected to torture, or other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Neither Capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offenses committed by persons below 18 years of age".

On the Face of it, Chinese law also seeks to protect the physical and mental safety of minors. The Constitution of the People's Republic of China [1982], in Article 49 states that Children need special protection and should never be maltreated. The Law on the Protection of Minors, Article 52 also states that:

"Agents of the legal administration who infringe the regulations of surveillance in custody, who commit corporal punishment and ill-treatment against juveniles, shall bear criminal responsibility in accordance with Article 189 of the Criminal Law". There are also other legal protections in Chinese law that exist to protect the interests of minors.(7)

As reported above, the treatment of young female prisoners violates both the international obigations that the Chinese Government has agreed to observe by ratifying the relevant international conventions and also its own law that it has created to protect minors, especially young female prisoners.

4.3 Violence against Tibetan women: Torture and sexual abuse of women activists and those in custody

TIBETAN women are being sexually assaulted in an organized and systematic way by the Chinese authorities. Reports and allegations of physical assault, sexual abuse and harassment in Chinese prisons in Tibet filter across the Himalayas. The Chinese authorities have themselves acknowledged the use of torture in obtaining confessions. This torture and sexual abuse have led thousands of women to flee Tibet. However it is extremely difficult to assess the full extent of sexual abuse and violence against women in Tibet. The humiliation and social stigma discourage many women from reporting such abuses.

A report issued jointly by LawAsia and TIN in March 1991 stated that:

"Written and oral accounts by nuns of their experiences in prison, particularly in Gurtsa, are strikingly consistent and indicate that nuns have been singled out for special treatment. Torture apparently reserved for nuns include the use of dogs to bite prisoners; lighted cigarettes being applied to the torso and face, and the use of electric batons in the genitals".(8)

The People's Republic of China has ratified the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Criminal Law of the PRC also stipulates that "it is strictly forbidden to extort confession by torture" (Article 136).(9)

The Criminal Procedure Law repeats the prohibition of "extortion of confessions by torture" or by other "unlawful means". The Regulations on Detention Centers which came into force in March 1990 provide that "beating and verbal abuse, corporal punishment" and "maltreatment" of "offenders" are "strictly forbidden".

The following are details of specific instances where Tibetan women have been tortured and have lived to tell their stories.

Dawa Langzom, a nun, was arrested in 1989 in Lhasa, after shouting independence slogans during a demonstration. On the police jeep, which took her to Gurtsa Detention Centre, the arresting officers cut off one of her nipples with a pair of scissors, according to nuns who have now fled Tibet.

Ngawang Kyizom was arrested for shouting slogans like "Long live the Dalai Lama" and "Free Tibet" at the entrance of the Jokhang (the main cathedral in Lhasa). For this outburst, in September 1990, Chinese secret police kicked and beat her, jabbed her with an electric cattle prod on her tongue, breasts and thighs and then jailed her for three years without a proper trial.

Another Tibetan woman, the twenty-six-year old Sonam Dolkar, was arrested in July 1990 on suspicion of her involvement in independence activities. Although she denied any political connections, she was interrogated under torture every other day for six months. She endured a fearsome range of torture techniques. She was stripped naked, slapped and punched. She was wrapped in electric wires and given electric shocks until she fainted. She was prodded with electric batons all over her body and on the face. Electric batons were also pushed into her genitals. She was restrained in handcuffs and leg-irons throughout her ordeal and held in solitary confinement on the days she was not tortured. By early 1991 she was vomiting and urinating blood every day and was in such a condition that a doctor was finally called to see her. She was eventually transferred to a police hospital from where she managed to escape. She left the country clandestinely during the second half of 1991.

Damchoe Pemo, a Lhasa businesswoman in her mid-twenties, was arrested in Lhasa on May 20, 1993. According to unofficial reports, she miscarried her baby a week after police forced her to remain standing for at least twelve hours and beat her with electric batons. At the time of arrest, she was reportedly four or five months into pregnancy. According to one source, she was tortured for refusing to reveal the names of Tibetan underground activists. She was apparently arrested on suspicion of being a member of an independence organization. Her release was officially announced on October 29, 1994 to European ambassadors during a meeting in Beijing.

4.4. Death in custody

ACCORDING to reports received, since 1991 five Tibetan women have died in custody or shortly after being released. These women are no doubt the victims of mistreatment and abuse in custody.

Most recently a nun political prisoner, Gyaltsen Kelsang, died, apparently as a result of maltreatment and poor living conditions in custody. She was the tenth known political prisoner since 1987 to die shortly after leaving prison, and the fourth woman to die in four years. At least two other prisoners have been hospitalized in serious conditions in the last five months. In October 1994 European diplomats visiting Lhasa raised the case of Gyaltsen Kelsang and fourteen other Garu nuns with the Vice-chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region. The Vice-chairman told the diplomats that the nuns had been convicted of "separatist activities". The diplomats appeal for clemency and further information about the nuns' condition remains unfulfilled.

In its May 1995 report Amnesty International said:

"In the recent past, three young Tibetan women have died shortly after release from prison, and that the Chinese Government's accounts of the reasons for, and circumstances of, their death are inadequate and did not respond to allegations of ill-treatment".(10)

An eighteen-year-old girl, Sherap Wangmo, died as a result of severe torture which she received whilst in Drapchi prison. She was imprisoned for three years for taking part in an independence demonstration.

A fifteen-year-old girl, Sherap Ngawang, also died in 1995 whilst serving a prison sentence for shouting independence slogans. The Tibet Information Network (TIN) reported on 30 May 1995 that:

"A Tibetan nun believed to have been the youngest political prisoner in Tibet died two weeks ago just after release from prison, apparently as a result of being beaten for pulling a face at prison guards, or through lack of medical treatment, according to unofficial reports from Tibet... Sherab Ngawang, thought to have been 15 years old when she died, was released from detention in February 1995 after completing a three year sentence for joining a pro-independence demonstration in 1992. Five women were involved in that protest, and Sherab's death means that two of those five women have now died either in custody or just after being released".(11)

On June 4, 1994 Phuntsog Yangki, a twenty-year-old Tibetan nun and prisoner of conscience serving her sentence in Drapchi prison, died in a police hospital in Lhasa. She was serving a five-year prison sentence for taking part in a brief independence demonstration in February 1992. According to unofficial reports, she was beaten by prison guards after she and other nuns sang nationalist songs on February 11, 1994.

FIVE. Birth-control policy in Tibet: Physical violation of Tibetan women

THE Chinese government, by implementing its birth control policy in Tibet, continues to violate Tibetan women's reproductive choices. Tibetans are devout Buddhists who hold reverence for all life forms and specially so for human life which is believed to be very precious. This is because of their belief that to be born a human being is to get a chance to attain enlightenment. To practice abortion is to deprive a human being of that opportunity and to submit to sterilization is to prevent a person who deserves to be born from being so born. Therefore, the act of performing abortions and sterilizations is considered sinful and it is particularly offensive to Tibetan women, since the killing of a sentient being is a sin. So, the forced implementation of birth-control and abortion not only deprives Tibetan women of their reproductive rights but this policy is a serious infringement of their religious rights as well.

In 1984 China announced a new policy, restricting the number of children per family to two. Orders were issued for the imposition of fines (ranging from 1,500 to 3,000 yuan or US $ 400 to 800) for the birth of a third child. Extra children were denied ration cards, and workers violating the rule had their pay cut to the extent of fifty percent, or withheld altogether for three to six months in some cases.

According to the Civil Affairs Department of Shigatse, in July 1990 a team from Shigatse Child and Maternity Hospital visited a remote and poor area of Bhuchung district to carry out examinations. It was found that 387 women in this sparesly populated rural area had been sterilized. The team had gone to ten districts to propagate family planning, resulting in the sterilization of 1,092 women out of 2,419.

Birth-control policy is forced more repressively on the poluation of Kham and Amdo. For example, in "Gansu Parig Tibetan Autonomous County" 2,415 women were sterilized in 1983 of whom eighty two percent were Tibetans. In 1987, 764 women of child bearing age were sterilized in Zachu district in "Karze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture": 660 were Tibetans. Mobile birth-control teams comb the countryside and pastoral areas where they round up women for abortion and sterilization. Even women well advanced in their pregnancy are forced to undergo abortion, followed by sterilization.

On November 5, 1987, the "TAR' Family Planning Department head, Tsering Dolkar, stated at a meeting:

"There are 104,024 women of child-bearing age, of whom 76,220 are married. Of them, 22,634 have already undergone birth-control operations, constituting thirty percent of women of child-bearing age in the TAR. In 1985, after the science of family planning was announced in the countryside and pastoral areas, there has been a perceptible change in the mental outlook and birth rates in these areas. In 1986, nineteen percent of women in Nyingtri, Lhokha and Shigatse were sterilized."

Tibetan women, like women all over the world, should have the inalienable right to control their bodies. Their right to privacy should be protected. Although China officially claims that its one-child birth control policy does not apply to "China's Minorities", evidence shows that the policy implemented China is applied in Tibet as well. Young women with one or no children are routinely sterilized. Vasectomies are forced on Tibetan men. No women under twenty two years of age are allowed to have children. Thereafter, they can have a child only with a birth permit from the authorities. Then there are various subtle birth-control policies such as restrictions on who may give birth, at what age and where, and fines of up to 2,000 yuan (U.S.$ 400) for "illegal" children, and incentives for one-child families, etc.

According to Pema, a Tibetan doctor who worked in a Chinese hospital in Amdo (Northeastern Tibet) prior to her recent escape to India, Chinese birth-control teams operate in hospitals, villages and nomadic areas.

She states: "The teams have a monetary incentive to do abortions and sterilizations on as many women as possible.

"The more names the Chinese doctors collect the more money they get from their government as well as from the unwilling victims."

According to Mrs. Lhankar, a 37-year-old Tibetan woman born in eastern Tibet:

"The Chinese policy is one child per family and we have to pay heavy fines for each extra child. In a sense we are paying a `human tax'. In 1988 the Chinese took me by force and sterilized me. Since I had had more children than was officially allowed, my children were designated as illegal and deprived of all rights of citizenship as dictated by Chinese ideology. We were no longer eligible for ration cards, resident registration or travel permits. In reality, my children became non-entities.

"Along with me, nearly thirty other women were sterilized at the same time. I can say that seventy percent of the women, aged eighteen and above, in my village have been sterilized. They (the Chinese) treat us like animals and use crude methods. My sister-in-law was aborted before her husband's eyes. She was four months into pregnancy when they took her to the clinic by force. They bound her hands and legs. A doctor, wearing gloves, put his hand into her vagina and seemed to squeeze the foetus. She became delirious and bled profusely. Many other pregnant women, some at seven months, were given injections in the stomach. The women wailed in agony and delivered dead foetuses. While operating, medical staff often made incisions without anaesthesia and with little consideration for the pain that was being inflicted. I have witnessed these terrible things with my own eyes"

According to another source from Amdo, in Huangnan (Tibetan: Malho) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, a Chinese government announcement at a public meeting stated that birth-prevention operations should be carried out to such an extent that two families would become one. In Awar village of the Henan Mongol Autonomous County (an area of Tibetans with Mongolian ancestry), the family of Dhondup, in 1992, was imposed a fine of 3,000 Yuan for exceeding the official limit on birth; and as he did not have such a hugh sum of money, the family's grain stock and other properties were confiscated. In the same village, the family of Dolma was fined 1,500 yuan for exceeding the official limit on birth. The source stated that there had been many other such cases.

Another report of forced birth-control implementation comes from Nagchu, northern Tibet. According to a source, a new "child care" hospital had been set up in Nagchu town by the Chinese authorities. It had some Tibetan medical personnel from Nagchu, too. With its establishment, the situation had become a nightmare to pregnant Tibetan women. Women becoming pregnant without the official permit would have their foetuses killed. This was done by inserting a small electric device into the womb, through the vagina. The electric device minced up the foetus. Following this, the woman was made to take a pill and the foetus taken out in bits and pieces. The Chinese authorities do not talk publicly about this method of foetus-killing, the source said. Such a crude method of pre-natal termination of pregnancy had been reported earlier from the northwestern Tibetan area of Qinghai too.

SIX. Increasing poverty and its consequence on Tibetan women

YEAR after year, the Chinese Government claims great economic advancement in Tibet: bumper crops, industrial growth, improvement of infrastructure and so forth. These claims were made even in 1961-1964 and 1968-1973, when Tibet was suffering its only famines in history.

6.1 An overview of the political-economic situation in Tibet

THE pattern of development in Tibet is intended to control the Tibetan economy rather than stimulate initiative enterprises and production. In the past four decades, there has been some economic progress in Tibet in certain areas like transportation, tele-communications, electricity, etc. However, these developments have tended only to support the Chinese population in Tibet. For instance, the beneficiaries of the World Food Programme's Agricultural Project Number 3357 in the Lhasa valley are the Chinese settlers, although it is meant for Tibetan villagers. Similarly, industrial development in Tibet has been in the field of mining for the exploitation of Tibet's natural resources for the benefit of China, while Tibet has to import all its needs for manufactured goods from China.

The late Panchen Lama, in his last speech in 1989, remarked, "The price Tibet paid for this development was higher than the gains". This speech was reported in China Daily, by its staff reporter Guo Zhongshi.

There is increasing evidence to suggest that the economic rewards of China's development policies in Tibet are not distributed equitably amongst the population of Tibet, and that in fact the main beneficiaries are Chinese settlers. Tibet's utilitarian role in China's economic progress is explicitly spelled out in the eighth Five Year Plan (1991-1995)(12). The difference in the standard of living between China and Tibet is striking: whilst China has a rating of 94 in UNDP's HD index in 1994, the rating for Tibet is 131.(13)

Whilst Tibet remains under foreign occupation, Tibetans, the custodians of Tibet for millennia, have no control over the development which is taking place in their country. As a people under foreign occupation, Tibetan women are deprived of the opportunity to voice their opinions as to whether the development program being implemented in Tibet is necessary or desirable. An examination of current development projects and policies in Tibet reveals that the largest proportion of investment activity is focused on large scale industrial and infrastructural projects and the exploitation of natural resources, and strengthening of China's control in Tibet.(14)

The Chinese frequently emphasize Tibetan people's "backwardness" as a factor inhibiting Tibet's economic progress. This overtly colonialist attitude is used to justify the importation from China of Chinese "specialists" and "technicians" to work on and administer development initiatives in Tibet.

In December 1994 Tibetan delegates to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body to the Government and Party, charged that in spite of the glowing reports of economic improvements in Tibet, Tibetans in some areas are now weak with hunger, and poverty is increasing. They also stated that rampant inflation, widespread corruption, poor education and high illiteracy are plaguing Tibet. In Sog County, Nagchu, located in the northern rim of the Tibet Autonomous Region, 4,446 people are said to be in a state of severe hunger and forty percent of the population lives below the poverty line. The documents written by these delegates provide some of the most stinging criticisms and details of social and economic policies in Tibet and are evidence of divisions and bitterness amongst a core of people who were thought to be loyal and supportive of the government.

The following is a direct translation of excerpts from some of these documents:

"Inflation, poverty, and starvation

"On May 13, 1994 deputies from Nyangchi, Ngari, Shigatse, Lhoka and Nagchu prefectures held a meeting in which they complained that due to rampant inflation, a great many of farmers and nomads, including residents of cities and suburban areas are having an extremely hard time. Households under the poverty line are increasing significantly, they complained.

"Tulku Ngawang Jigdrol, vice-chairman of the local Chinese People's Political Consultative Committee (CPPCC) in Sog county, and Athar, vice-chairman of CPPCC in Nagchu prefecture, reported to the meeting that in the three eastern counties of Nagchu area (Sog, Biru, Bhachen), poverty is so devastating that households falling under the poverty line are increasing significantly. In the last two years snowstorms and hail have already reduced the production to fifty percent and this year's rampant inflation on food-grain put most of the farmers and nomads in almost unbearable difficulties."

The general economic impact of the Chinese settlers on Tibetans may be gauged from the following example: Of the 12,827 shops and restaurants in Lhasa city (excluding the ones in the Barkhor area) only 300 are owned by Tibetans. In Tsawa Pasho, southern Kham, Chinese own 133 business enterprises whereas Tibetans own only 15. The ownership ratio is similar in other Tibetan towns: 748 to 92 in Chamdo, 229 to 3 in Powo Tramo. The situation is far worse in the urban centres of Amdo, where, according to one British journalist, Tibetans are reduced to "tourist curios".

6.2 Poverty and women

THE Fourth World Conference on Women will be placing the feminization of poverty high on its agenda. The conference, whilst discussing these problems, should also take into account the feminization of poverty from the perspective of women in occupied countries who are being discriminated against on the basis of both their sex and race.

Tibetan women experience poverty different from that of their male counterparts. Tibetan women need social support systems for health, family planning and education. Abject poverty exposes Tibetan women to extreme hardship in gaining employment and educational opportunities. As household members, women find it difficult to obtain even the most basic amenities for sustaining their families. So much so that the third Tibetan official fact-finding mission from Dharamsala was told by a woman in Tibet that she had to feed her baby with the soup made of her own blood.

As long as China controls Tibetan economy to serve the interest of the Chinese, Tibetan women will not be able to participate in in economic decision-making processes that affect their future lives. They will continue to be hamstrung by the lack of access to education, health services, employment and participation in development projects.

6.2.a. Tibetan women and education

EDUCATION in Tibet today is neither free nor universally available. Overwhelming numbers of Tibetan girls still do not go to school either because there are no schools or, where they are available, parents cannot afford the fees.

6.2.b. Education before the Chinese invasion

IN independent Tibetthere were over 6,259 monasteries and nunneries which served as schools and universities, fulfilling Tibet's unique education needs. Drepung monastery in Lhasa alone had at any given time over 10,000 students coming mostly from the peasantry. In addition there was a sizable network of private and government schools all over Tibet.

6.2.b.i. Education in Tibet today

Of the over six thousand traditional institutes of learning, only thirteen survived the Chinese destruction. An overwhelming number of them are still heaps of rubble and their rebuilding or renovation is strictly under Chinese censorship. Similarly, almost all the learned scholars and teachers, the human repositories of Tibet's rich religious philosophical, intellectual and literary heritage, were persecuted. Most of them were executed or died under various forms of torture or incarceration.

Education policies inside Tibet today serve to favour Chinese as the medium for teaching. The cost of education is high and many places are reserved for Chinese settlers as a part of the incentive package to encourage more Chinese to move into Tibet. Tibetan women and girls are, therefore, escaping Tibet everyday to seek an adequate education in India, the seat of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile.

According to UNICEF, illiteracy rate is seventy three percent in Tibet as against thirty one percent in China.(15) Amnesty International in a recently published report stated that:

"Only sixty percent of school age children attend schools in the TAR, according to Chinese Press reports".(16) Members of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile's third fact-finding delegation (on education) to Tibet were told by the Chinese Government that there were 2,511 schools in Tibet. However, Mrs Jetsun Pema, leader of the delegation says:

"Wherever we went it was extremely difficult to arrange a visit to a school. "The school is closed for summer vacation, the headmaster is away, the children have gone for lunch" (at 10:am), were some of the excuses. After one such excuse the delegation looked into the classrooms and found them stacked from floor to ceiling with timber. Another time, on being shown a rural tent classroom, the delegates lifted the groundsheet and found the grass still green underneath".

While the Chinese in Tibet study English right from the Primary school stage, Tibetans are taught this language only when they reach the third year at Upper Middle School level.

John Billington, Director of studies at Repton School in England, travelled extensively through Tibet in 1988 and reported the following :

"In rural areas especially, a large number of children can be seen working in the fields cutting grass, herding sheep, collecting yak dung and working at stalls. Enquiry reveals that they do not go to school, in most cases because no schools exist. It was sad to hear older people say that there had been schools in the past attached to a monastery, but that when the monasteries were destroyed the little rural schools have not been replaced. Well off the beaten track, I met elderly nomads who could read and write; it was too often a brutal reminder of Chinese neglect that their grandchildren could not".

There have been several demonstrations staged by the students in Tibet in recent years to protest against the high costs of education, discrimination against Tibetan students and Tibetan studies, poor educational facilities and the lack of basic sanitation in the existing schools.

The medium of teaching from Middle School level upwards is Chinese even in an area where the Chinese Government claims by its 1990 census that 95.46 percent of the population is Tibetan.

The first Australian Human Rights Delegation to China in July 1991 stated in its report:

"Though the delegation noted an official determination to raise educational standards for Tibetans, many Tibetan children appear to still go without formal education. Tibetan children in Lhasa area seemingly have access to a very limited syllabus at both primary and secondary levels. Some testified to never having been at school, or having to leave for economic reasons as early as ten years old".

In a petition, dated February 20, 1986, submitted to the Chinese authorities, Tashi Tsering, an English teacher at Lhasa's Tibet University, stated:

"In 1979, 600 students from the Tibet Autonomous Region were pursuing university education in Tibet and China. Of them, only 60 were Tibetans. In 1984 Tibet's three big schools had 1,984 students on their rolls, out of which only 666 were Tibetans. In the same year 250 students from Tibet may have been sent to universities in the Mainland. But only 60 to 70 of them were Tibetans... Most of the government outlay meant for Tibetan education is used on Chinese students. Even today, 70 per cent of Tibetans are illiterate.

"Out of 28 classes in Lhasa's Middle School No. 1, 12 are for Tibetans.... Out of 1,451 students, 933 are Tibetans and 518 Chinese. Not only are the Chinese students not learning Tibetan, 387 of the Tibetan students are not learning Tibetan either. Only 546 Tibetans are learning their language. Of the 111 teachers, only 30 are Tibetans and seven teach Tibetan. I have heard that the best qualified teachers are assigned to teach the Chinese classes whereas unqualified teachers teach the Tibetan classes.

"In Lhasa's Tibet University, there are 413 Tibetan students and 258 Chinese. 251 Tibetans are in the Tibetan language and Literature stream and 27 in the Tibetan Medical Studies Stream. Only 135 Tibetan students get to study modern subjects... The Tibetan departments are generally known as the 'Departments of Political Manipulation'. This is because, while the authorities have fixed 60 percent of seats for Tibetan students and 40 per cent for Chinese students, most of the Tibetan students are absorbed into these two Tibetan departments, leaving the majority of the seats in modern education streams to the Chinese.... The English Department of this University has two Tibetan students and fourteen Chinese".

Tibetan women are denied their basic cultural rights to learn and speak their own language. On the Tibetan new year day of 1993, women prisoners in Lhasa's Drapchi prison were not allowed to wear the traditional Tibetan dress. When the prisoners complained about this, they were subjected to brutal beatings.

From 1966 onwards complete sinicization became the watchword. The Tibetan language was labelled as the language of religion and the teaching of the Tibetan language was forbidden. Some time in the 1960s monk and nun teachers as well as qualified lay Tibetan teachers were nearly all ordered to leave their teaching jobs. "Fluency in the Chinese language has become a prerequisite for obtaining employment, even for unskilled positions. This provides little incentive for young Tibetans to become proficient in their own language. In fact, opportunities to learn Tibetan are limited, as entrance examinations to upper level schools are conducted in the Chinese language.

(17) Every year a certain number of university seats in Tibet and China are officially reserved for "Tibetan" students and this financial allocation forms part of the budget for Tibetan education. However, the majority of these seats go to Chinese students due only to the fact that they have finished school in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), or owing to their Tibet residency registration. Thus the real beneficiaries of educational opportunities are the Tibet- resident Chinese. Even scholarships to study abroad, meant for Tibetan students, go to Chinese residents in Tibet because they are deemed Tibetan due to their residential status. Since the early 1980s well over 6,000 children have risked everything to journey across the Himalayas to India in the hope that they may receive in exile what they have been denied back home: education. Many children escaping across the Himalayas have been unaccompanied minors. The UNHCR office in Kathmandu registered thirty such minors in the first two months of 1995 alone. These children are lucky; many such minors have been reported missing along the escape route. During their arduous journey many children have suffered frostbite; others have been drowned while trying to negotiate dangerous rivers along the escape route. Some children have succeeded in their escape only after several failed attempts.

In order to reverse the tide of escaping Tibetan youngsters, the Chinese authorities in Lhasa issued orders in August 1994 to Tibetan government officials and employees instructing them to recall their children to Tibet. Warnings were issued that those who failed to obey the order would be demoted or possibly expelled from their jobs, that their promotions and pay increments would be withheld, and cadres would be expelled from the party. The ban is not restricted to cadres and government employees alone, the order also stated that students presently being educated in India would lose their right to a residence permit if they did not return to Tibet within the stipulated time.

The Women's desk of the Department of Information and International Relations recently interviewed women who have just escaped from Tibet. All those interviewed cited the absence of educational opportunities and freedom as thereason for their escape.

6.2.c. Tibetan women and health

TIBETAN women, like women in many other countries, suffer from low levels of health care as a result of economic, social and political factors such as foreign occupation. In occupied Tibet, the health service is not only urban-biased, but also serves the Chinese colonists and the rich better than the predominantly poor Tibetans. Only ten percent of financial outlay for health goes to rural areas: ninety percent goes to urban centers where Chinese settlers are concentrated and where most hospitals are located. Even when available, medical facilities are prohibitively expensive for most Tibetans.

Admission to a hospital as an in-patient requires a deposit from 300 to 500 yuan (U.S.$ 80 to 133), an impossible fee for a population whose average per capita income is 200 yuan. Likewise, surgery and blood transfusions are reserved only for those who can pay. The average Tibetan is economically disadvantaged against Chinese who receive "hardship posting" subsidies.

A Swedish delegation to Tibet reported in 1994 that:

"There were only 10,000 trained doctors in the whole of Tibet and there was a considerable shortage of staff in the rural areas and small communities. The number of doctors was just over two per thousand inhabitants."(18)

That mortality rate for Tibetans is much higher than Chinese is a pointer to the poor health service and the low standards of public hygiene in Tibet. In 1981 crude death rates per thousand were 7.48 in the Tibet Autonomous Region and 9.92 in Amdo, as against an average of 6.6 in China, according to the report of the World Bank in 1984 and the UNDP in 1991. Child mortality rates are also high: 150 per thousand in Tibet against forty three for China. The tuberculosis morbidity rate, according to the World Bank, is 120.2 per 1,000 in Tibet Autonomous Region and 647 per 1,000 in Amdo.

6.2.c.i. Pregnancy and medical abuse:

THERE have been numerous reports of Chinese doctors and health personnel using Tibetan patients as guinea pigs to practice their skills. It is commonplace that Chinese medical graduates sent to Tibet for internship are given independent charge of Tibetan patients whom they are free to treat in any way they wish. There are widespread allegations of common Tibetan patients being subjected to examination for diseases other than those they complained of. Especially, operations are being carried out without any obvious or actual need.

In August 1978, Kalsang (from eastern Tibet) and his wife Youdon took their 21-year old daughter, who was three months pregnant, to the "TAR Hospital No.2" (then known as Worker's Hospital)&for an examination. The Chinese doctor carried out an apparently unnecessary operation on her. She died two hours later, crying in great physical agony.

Again, around the same period, when a worker named Migmar of the Lhasa Electric Power Station took his 25-year old wife to Lhasa City Hospital for delivery, both the mother and child died after a failed attempt at a caesarian delivery. When the mother's body was dismembered at her "sky burial" (an ancient Tibetan practice of feeding the dismembered parts of the deceased to vultures) a pair of scissors were discovered in her body.

Sometime in August 1994, Pasang, 23, went to the People's Hospital in Lhasa to give birth. A doctor reportedly told Pasang's mother that because the expectant mother was too weak and the child too big, delivery was impossible without operating. After about three hours the doctor announced to the mother that Pasang died due to hypertension. While preparing for sky burial, the family instructed the 'tobden' (men who dispose bodies) to find out the cause of death. The 'tobden' reported to the family that the heart, liver and womb of the deceased were quite clearly missing. On hearing this, Pasang's family reportedly took the matter to court. To date there is no report of the judicial fate of this case.

6.2.c.ii. Medical neglect in Chinese prisons

MANY former Tibetan women political prisoners have reported suffering injuries due to beatings and illness from the generally poor conditions in prison. Injuries sustained include broken ribs, partial deafness, broken arms, chronic headaches and nausea. When women are sexually violated with electric cattle prods, the consequences for women can be severe both in the short and long term. A report jointly issued by LawAsia and TIN in 1991, stated that: "reports consistently suggest that medical care in the prisons is inadequate, limited to very basic first aid for what are sometimes serious injuries or illnesses. "When a doctor was allowed to visit", said a forty-two-year old man who spent nine months at Gurtsa in 1988, "one or two tablets were given. They said we were reactionaries, that we were enemies of the people and deserved no treatment".(19)

6.2.c.iii. Threats to women's health due to life-threatening toxic materials, environmental hazards

Duirng the 1960s and 1970s, nuclear waste from the "Ninth Academy", China's primary nuclear weapons research and design facility site on the Tibetan Plateau in Haibei Province, was disposed of in a haphazard and unregulated way, posing enormous danger to those who lived nearby. Reports from areas of Amdo describe the mysterious pollution of land and water and widespread human and animal deaths. In Jampakok and Kharkok, over fifty Tibetans have died inexplicably since 1987 after being affected by severe fever, vomiting and dysentery. Significantly large numbers of deformed births are also reported from areas around Qinghai in Amdo and Nagchu in U-Tsang.

Nuclear dumping poses a serious threat to human life and ecological environment. Child-bearing women and children are specially susceptible. The effects of nuclear dumping range from mild sickness to death and deformity at birth. At the time, when the international community is making all efforts in creating and maintaining a clean environment, China is conveniently dumping its nuclear wastes in Tibet without the least care for its ill effects on life and environment in Tibet.

A high proportion of Tibetan villagers living near the mine in Ngaba Prefecture have reportedly died after drinking water polluted by waste by the uranium mines, according to information gathered by the London-based Tibet Information Network.(20) In the past three years at least thirty five of the approximately 500 people in the village have died within a few hours of developing fever, followed by a distinctive form of diarrhea; six victims died within three days of each other. There have reportedly not been such deaths in the villages located farther away from the mines, a villager said.(21)

The most likely sites for such dumps are in the northern plateau of Chang Thang, where large areas have been closed off by the Chinese army, and near Nyakchuka where China has set up a nuclear test facility. The method of storage is not known, although surface storage is suspected since China has no proper underground storage facility.

6.2.d. Tibetan women and unemployment

THE increased economic activity in Tibet has not substantially increased employment opportunities for Tibetans. To the contrary, Chinese workers are encouraged, via a system of incentives such as attractive subsidies, relaxation of the one-child policy, and higher wages to come to Tibet to work on development projects. These workers are comprised not only of technicians and specialized personnel, but include unskilled laborers.(22) As a consequence, unemployment is becoming endemic amongst Tibetans, especially for Tibetan women who face double discrimination.

Refugee women

Tibetan Women in exile

IT has been estimated by the United Nations that there are currently million refugees in the world. More than eighty percent of refugees are women and children.(23) Amnesty International, in a recently published report on the world's women, stated that: "There is no doubt that refugee women, particularly those on their own, are more vulnerable to exploitation and deprivation of rights, at every stage of flight, than are refugee men, according to Anne Howarth-Wiles, UNHCR Senior Co-ordinator for refugee women".

(24) There are 130,000 Tibetan refugees residing in over thirty countries outside Tibet. During the year 1989-1993, about 10,626 refugees escaped from Tibet. The 1992 survey, conducted by the Planning Council of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, Dharamsala, shows that the male/female ratio among the Tibetan exile population in India is roughly 51:49. This composition of the Tibetan population also reveals the socio-cultural status of our women.

The Tibetan refugee community in India and Nepal has done so well that it is not only able to look after itself, but also provide educational opportunities to thousands of new refugees from Tibet to whom the Chinese government has not been able to give any educational opportunity. The success of the refugee community suggests that Tibetans in Tibet could do much better for themselves if they had the freedom to live their lives they deem fit. In 1995, the United Nations' Friends have recognized the Tibetan refugees as one of the fifty exemplary communities.

ONE. Women refugees in flight: A perilous journey

THE plight of Tibetan women escaping from Tibet and their vulnerability to exploitation and violence has been documented by various independent sources. Some of these Tibetan women are fleeing Tibet with "a well-founded fear" of political persecution, others are escaping poverty and seeking better social and economic opportunities outside Tibet.

Since the occupation of Tibet by Chinese military forces, thousands of Tibetans have escaped from Tibet and continue to do so each year by travelling over high mountains, high passes and dangerous terrains. For these Tibetans, the journey to freedom is a perilous one and often ends in the loss of lives on the way. Women and children suffer the most during these difficult journeys. Besides the fear of being caught by Chinese military personnel, there is a fear for life and property. Often half way through the journey, the tired travellers find themselves short of food and have to go on for days without food. The most common complaint of all those who escape by road is frostbites. In many cases, frostbites have resulted in amputation of hands and legs thus causing scars for life. These experiences have proved very traumatic for women and children who are innocent victims of circumstances.

TWO. Economic displacement and women in exile

2.1 Employment

THE population of thirty eight Tibetan settlements in exile is 56,084 (29,686 males and 26,686 females). This represents eighty one percent of the total population in the settlements.

The unemployment (defined as not having any gainful work for over six months in a year) rate among the settlement population between the ages of sixteen and fifty is 18.5 percent. This figure, although high, corresponds to the fact that only 79.7 percent of the adult population is engaged in primary employment.

In the scattered communities, unemployment rate of 1.3 percent was recorded. This figure is clearly too low; however, it is to be expected that the unemployment rate would be less in scattered communities than in the settlements because many live in scattered communities because of better job opportunities there.

2.1.a. Primary employment

AMONG the exile population, 52.4 percent is engaged in primary employment, defined as being engaged in gainful work for more than six months of the year. Data on primary employment covering 29,368 working persons (15,524 males and 13,844 females) indicates that the ratio of the work force is 52.9 percent male and 47.1 percent female.

In exile, agriculture continues to be the primary occupation for a little less than half of the working population. This is expected as life in many settlements is organized around land cultivation. Other settlements have handicraft production as their focus, which explains the high percentage of the working population employed in carpet weaving. Carpet weaving is important as an occupation for women in particular. It is striking that the participation of women in the work force in the Tibetan refugee community is almost as high as that of men: 51.8 percent of the female population is employed as against 52.8 percent of the male population.

2.1.b Secondary employment

Data on secondary employment, covering 12,041 working persons (6352 males and 5689 females), indicate the profile of secondary occupations. Once again, female participation rate in secondary employment is almost as high as that for males. Among secondary occupations, agriculture is also the largest activity. This is partly because the lack of irrigation facilities confines agriculture to single crop cultivation.

Sweater-selling in autumn and winter seasons is the next largest activity _ just under a third of all women participate in it. This is a statistical corroboration of a well-known fact of life in the settlements.

2.1.c Affirmative action in exile

THE Tibetan Government-in-Exile has ensured the high participation rate of female workers in the government by ensuring that their rights are protected, and by adopting an affirmative action policy aimed at increasing the number of female government workers. At present Tibetan women constitute one-third of the total employees.

As provided under the Civil Service Code of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, Tibetan women employed in the administrative field receive equal pay for equal work.

The right to leave in connection with birth is laid down in the Civil Service Code, Clause 28 of Article 6. It states that a female employee may be granted from one to three months maternity leave with full pay.

2.2 Education

THE education of Tibetan refugee children is always a major source of concern for the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. His Holiness the Dalai Lama started the first school for Tibetan refugee children at Mussoorie on March 3, 1960. The Council for Tibetan Education was established to look after educational needs of refugee children. In May 1960, His Holiness the Dalai Lama started a nursery for orphaned and semi-orphaned children in Dharamsala, India. This nursery was placed under the care of his elder sister, the late Mrs Tsering Dolma. The following year the Tibetan Homes Foundation was started in Mussoorie for older orphans.

Traditionally, on account of the existing social set up, girls in Tibet received fewer educational opportunities than boys. However, in exile universal education has been an important priority and has influenced the lives of a great number of women, opening equal opportunities to them. Tibetan women have now made unprecedented strides in assuming positions of responsibility and leadership in exile.

In the field of religious education too, women are given equal opportunities to study and obtain the highest degree if they so wish to. Facilities and opportunities for the study of religion are being made avaivable by the Department of Culture and Religion and NGOs like Tibetan Nun's Project.

2.2.a School enrollment ratio

ACCORDING to the 1993-1994 school enrollment data collected by the Department of Education, there were 22,886 students in the eighty five Tibetan schools in India, Nepal and Bhutan. Female students constituted fifty one per cent of the total number of students.

2.2.b. School graduates

BETWEEN the years 1990 and 1993, a total of 1,642 Tibetan students completed their school. For every 100 male school graduates, there were 117 female school graduates. The choice of subjects however differed between male and female students. More male students chose commerce and science, while more female students opted for arts (humanity) and vocational studies. See Table 1.

School graduates (1990-1993)
Table 1

		  1990           1991           1992      	1993

Subject   	 M    F         M     F        M    F		M    F
Arts      	93   128       114   166      123  168		116  147    
Commerce  	13    11        16    13       10   18		 34   17 
Science   	31    14        33    18       65   33		 48   37 
Vocation  	 4    12        27    43       10   31		 19   30

Total          141  165        190   240      208  250  	217  231

Choice of Subject at college level (1994-1993)
Table 1.1

Subject Field			Male                Female
Arts & Social Sciences        	53                  44 
Education                     	12                  28 
Legal & Business              	32                  15 
Science and Technology        	38                  16 
Vocational                    	 2                  14

Total                          137                 117

2.2.c.Further education/technical education

However, more men than women went on to pursue universityeducation. Most female students tend to enroll in education andvocational studies. A few of them choose arts and social sciences, legal and business studies and science and technology. See Table 1.1 2.2.d. Scholarships for further education During the four-year period between 1990 and 1993, the Department of Education of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile alone provided scholarships to 286 students who left or completed schooling to pursue further education. 121 (or 42%) of the total number of scholarship recipients were female.

Education has helped in changing existing gender roles as Tibetan women are now more educated and informed and are increasingly becoming more optimistic about their prospects. The participation rate of women in the public life has risen; women are now working in government service as civil servants, welfare workers, and teachers. They work as doctors, nurses, administrators and artists. Today two of the biggest educational institutions of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile are headed by two very capable women who have shown their strength and capability in various other capacities too.

2.3 Health

HEALTH care is a basic need for the overall welfare and development of a community. Recognizing the need for good health care for the Tibetan refugee community, the Tibetan Government-in-Exile has taken consistent steps towards creating curative and preventive health care services. The earliest rehabilitation projects included some health care centers which were funded by non-governmental organizations. When these organizations handed over the administration of the health centers to the respective settlements, there was a need to establish an apex body within the Tibetan Government-in-Exile to finance and manage the health centers as well as to plan a comprehensive health care system for the Tibetan refugee community. The Department of Health was thus established in 1981.

Due to financial constraints, the overall health situation of the Tibetan refugee community in India and Nepal, especially for women, is still not satisfactory. This is mainly due to the stress and tension of refugee life, economic constraints, poor nutrition, poor hygiene, poor sanitation, illiteracy among the older generation, the language barrier, and an overall low level of health awareness in the community.

According to the Department of Health, the life expectancy for both men and women is above sixty. Infant mortality rates for both male and female infants under one year of age is twenty seven deaths per thousand live births. Child mortality rates for both boys and girls aged from one to four years is twenty five deaths per thousand.

According to medical reports, fifty percent of pregnant women were found to be with haemoglobin level below 11grams/dl. As of September 1994, ninety percent of pregnant women were fully immunized against tetanus, and other infections. Sixty percent of births were attended by trained personnel/midwives in clinics and forty percent of births were attended by experienced elder women or community health workers.

Tuberculosis is a major problem. Over 33,000 cases within the Tibetan refugee community have been reported since 1959. A concerted effort with international assistance has greatly improved TB detection and treatment. Other health problems include dysentery, diarrhoea, hepatitis, skin disorders, and respiratory diseases resulting from unhygienic conditions, malnutrition, and the change of environment after the purity of the Tibetan plateau.

THREE. Power sharing and decision making

HIS Holiness the Dalai Lama has always encouraged women to participate in the administration at all level.

Today Tibetan women in exile comprise one-third of the workforce in the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. The status of Tibetan women was given a further boost in 1988, when a Tibetan woman was appointed as one of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's overseas representatives. The ultimate pointer to the full assertion of the role of women in political office came in 1990 when a Tibetan woman was elected as a Cabinet Minister.

A gradual yet distinct increase of women in administrative service has been observed over the years. It is expected that by the year 2000, the number of women employees in the administrative service will equal the number of male employees. Some of the finest institutions of education set up for refugee children are being run successfully by women. Between 1990 and 1994 two women have been elected to the highest post of Cabinet Ministers.

Although women in the past had received less representation in the Assembly of Tibetan People's Deputies, the major reforms in Article 37 of the Charter for Tibetan in Exile ensures a minimum of six female parliamentarians in the current 11th Assembly. With the kind of encouragement and opportunities that Tibetan women have received from all sectors of the Tibetan community in exile, it is expected that women will play a major role in shaping the political and socio-economic destiny of future independent Tibet.

The Eleventh Assembly (Tibetan parliament in exile) is composed of 46 members, of whom nine are women. In fact women candidates from the province of Amdo and U-Tsang received the maximum votes from their respective constituencies.


WHILE women all over the world suffer discrimination, violence and other violations, the struggle they are voicing is largely one of women's liberation. Tibet's own struggle embodies another element _ national survival, reversal of genocide, the fight to return to our own occupied homeland. Tibetan women are innocent victims of forced military occupation. Inside Tibet, Tibetan women are discriminated as minorities, tortured as prisoners of conscience, involuntarily subjected to the Chinese policy of birth control, whereby pregnant women are aborted and women of child-bearing age are sterilized under painful and unhygienic conditions. Women in Tibet are the silent spectators of cultural genocide which the Chinese policy of population transfer is aimed at. Their views and thoughts could forever be ignored and forgotten with the passage of time, for these women have lost their right to freedom of speech and expression.

As refugees, Tibetan women are displaced people who cannot return home for fear of persecution. Tibetan women refugees have had to adapt to a new way of life and at the same time struggle to maintain our culture and identity.

As a peace-loving people committed to "ahimsa" (non-violence), we Tibetans do not take up arms. Our voices are our only weapons. We raise our voices in exile for our sisters suffering in prisons in Tibet, undergoing forced-abortion and sterilization, discriminated against in health, education and employment opportunities. But our voices are not enough. We need international support and consistent international pressure on China so that Tibet is not silenced in history.

Recommendations for the Draft Platform for Action

1. Tibetan women have suffered immensely under the Chinese occupation. Many have been forced to flee their country so that they can freely practice their culture without fear of persecution. We urge actions to be taken which take into consideration the plight of Tibetan women and to adopt strategies which will eliminate the suffering of all Tibetan women and restore our basic human dignity.

2. We encourage delegates to pressurize countries such as China to ensure respect for the right of all women to control their own fertility and to be protected from unsafe and involuntary abortions.

3. We recommend that strategies that seek to eliminate all forms of repression, be they political, religious or cultural, that exclude women from internationally-accepted norms of human rights and make women targets of extreme violence be initiated at the conference on behalf of Tibetan women.

4. We urge that the Draft Platform for Action take into consideration the perspectives of Tibetan women when discussing strategies for increasing the participation of women in peace-making processes. Without this input the platform for action is in danger of becoming too narrowly focused.

5. We encourage the participants to persuade the international community to document military abuses against women so as to promote peace in the world.

6. We advocate the creation of social, economic, legal and political conditions under which women's reproductive rights are protected, including the right to freely decide the number and spacing of their children and the eradication and condemnation of all forms of coercion in reproductive health laws, policies and practices.

7. We encourage the conference to focus on the rights of the girl child particularly those rights that protect the girl child from being arbitrarily arrested, detained and tortured and that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child be considered when discussing the rights of the girl child.


1) Information Office of the Tibetan Regional People's Autonomous Government, "Report on the Situation of Women in Tibet Today," March 1995, p.17

2) ibid, p.8

3) Amnesty International, "People's Republic of China: Persistent Human Rights Violations in Tibet," May 1995, London, p.11

4) ibid, p.18

5) ibid, p.21

6) The Law on Prisons (Dec. 1994) repeats those provisions forbidding torture and ill-treatment of prisoners, and the Law on Compensation (early 1995) provides the victims of such abuses to be entitled to compensation, p.12

7) Criminal Law of the People's Republic of China - Article 136; Regulations on Detention Centres, March 1990; Prison Law, Dec .1994

8) LawAsia and Tibet Information Network, "Defying the Dragon: China and Human Rights in Tibet, " March 1991, U.K.,50

9) The Criminal Law of the People's Republic of China, 1990, p.23

10) Amnesty International, "People's Republic of China: Persistent Human Rights Violations in Tibet," May 1995, London, p.18

11) TIN News Update, May 30, 1995, London

12) Tibetan Youth Congress, "Development for Whom? A Report on the Chinese Development Strategies in Tibet and their Impact", p.2

13) UNDP, Human Development Report, 1994, p.100

14) Supra FN 12, p.8

15) TIN report on British Parliamentary Debate on Tibet, 13 December 1989

16) 3) Amnesty International, "People's Republic of China: Persistent Human Rights Violations in Tibet," May 1995, London, p.2

17) Tibetan Youth Congress, "Strangers in their own Country: A Report on the Chinese Population Transfer in Tibet and its Impacts", Dharamsala, India, 1994, p.13

18) "The Visit of the Swedish Human Rights Delegation to China and Tibet, March 20-30, 1994", submitted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on October 4, 1994,p.40

19) LawAsia and TIN, "Defying the Dragon", p.53

20) "Tibetan Dying from Uranium Mine Waste:, TIN News Update, September 11, 1992

21) ibid, TIN is with-holding the exact name and location of the village pending further investigation

22) Supra FN 12, p.13

23) Amnesty International, "Human Rights are Women's Rights", March 1995, London, p.22

24) ibid, p22

APPENDIX 1 Summary Date of Prisoners' List

Table 1. Number of Women Detained 1987-1994

1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 Nuns 8 36 49 56 41 83 77 20 Lay Women 14 14 18 9 6 4 7 1 Unknow - - - - 1 - 2 - Total 22 50 67 65 48 87 86 21

Table 2. Number of Women Sentenced 1987-1994

1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 Known 10 38 38 51 34 52 22 7 Unknown 12 17 29 14 14 35 64 14

APPENDIX II Table 3. Length of Sentence 1987-1994

1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 Years <1 9 31 4 3 8 - 1 - 1-5 1 3 28 22 25 24 9 5 5-10 - 4 5 21 - 21 12 2 10-15 - - - 5 1 7 - - 15> - - 1 - - - - -

APPENDIX III Summary Data of Prisonsers' List Table 3. Length of Sentence 1987-1994

1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 Years <15 - - 2 2 1 1 - - 12-20 2 4 15 16 11 22 14 4 20-25 8 22 28 26 25 41 29 6 25-30 4 12 9 19 7 6 2 1 30 - 40 7 10 4 - - 3 1 - >40 - 1 2 1 - - 2 - Total 21 49 60 64 44 73 48 11

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Last updated: 29-Jan-96