Young-Uyghur Women Transferred from Rural China for Forced Labour in Eastern Urban Areas

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Uyghur women targeted by large-scale government programme aimed at transferring them to from rural to urban areas for forced labour.

 Young-Uyghur Women Transferred from Rural China for Forced Labour in Eastern Urban Areas


Introduction

Uyghurs[1], who embody a significantly large Muslim population in China, have been the target of a large-scale government programme set-out to transfer large portions of the community's young women from rural regions of Eastern Turkistan (Xingjian, in western China) to urban areas of eastern China. While this programme is advertised as an attractive job-opportunity, providing participating women with training and a chance to send decent earnings to their impoverished families back home, participating women and their parents testify to a much different and grimmer reality. Upon arrival, the women do not receive any of the attractive wages they were promised, if any at all, and instead are made to live in abhorrent quarters, eating often insect-ridden food and forced to work inhumane hours.


Background

This transfer programme should be placed within the context of the wider-scale phenomenon of suppression and human rights abuses perpetrated by the Chinese authorities against the Uyghur community[2]. Uyghurs are a Turkic Muslim minority population in China, though with significantly large numbers estimated to exceed 16 million[3]. Above all, Uyghurs dwell in Eastern Turkistan, a north-western autonomous region of China, in addition to other rural areas in central China. Amongst other human rights abuses, Uyghurs in Yarkand, the largest county in Kashgar Prefecture, continue to be victims of hasha, or forced, unpaid labour, at the hand of the Chinese authorities[4].


Scale of the Programme

Although exact figures of this programme are difficult to ascertain, human rights reports substantiated by The People's Republic of China (PRC) statistics indicate the transfer of several thousand young women in selected counties of Eastern Turkistan, thus reflecting the possibility of a massive-scale government-endorsed programme. Reportedly, PRC statistics indicate that amongst the some 100,000 people from East Turkistan working in the eastern urban areas of China during 2007, a significant portion of these workers were young women[5]. This programme, which targets Uyghur women aged 16-25, transfers them from various rural counties in East Turkistan to eastern urban metropolises such as Zhejiang, Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Shandong[6]. Reports confirm that, from 2006 to the beginning of 2007, 3,000 young Uyghur women had been transferred out of Payzawat (Jiashi) County[7] as an instance of this programme. Another report mentions the forcible transfer of 20,000 mostly-unmarried women aged 16-18 from the Kashgar region from 2006 till present[8]. However, independent sources suggest that this is merely the tip of the iceberg, with actual figures estimated to be possibly within the range of hundreds of thousands annually. This assessment is not impossible given the figures corroborated by PRC reports for selected counties within a limited time-frame.

As a note, it is possible that the 'in-transfer' of ethnic Han Chinese[9] to East Turkistan coinciding with the 'out-transfer' of Uyghur girls is not accidental. Allegedly, as Uyghurs are transferred out, Hans are moved in, thereby changing Uyghur counties' demographics significantly. Reports indicate that in 1955, Uyghurs made up 74% of East Turkestan, with Hans being only 6%. Remarkably, that figure has since become 45% Uyghur, 41% Han[10].


Lured by False Promises, Threatened or Forced by Local Authorities

Local Chinese authorities, in addition to media, have employed a range of methods to lure the young women into participating in this programme. Firstly, while employment is scarce in these largely agricultural regions, the young women and their families' are deceived into believing this move will be a financially-viable solution for their family. They are promised attractive wages, such as 300 USD per month, paid travel costs and hotel-like accommodations. At the same time, the women are threatened with being denied marriage certificates and confiscation of their resident registration cards if they don't participate[11]. Also, farmers are threatened with confiscation of their lands and the cutting-off of their utilities, such as water for irrigation, if they do not give their daughters for this programme[12]. In fact, local authorities go so far as forcing the girls to participate, as they themselves are under severe pressure to ensure they find recruits.

After queries into the possibility that girls involved in transfers have been raped, Tursun Barat, the head of No. 8 hamlet near Kachung village, responds “The government has forced them to go, so the government should respond to this. We have told the chief of the village”, and subsequently admitting, “It's true that, at the beginning, we forced them”[13].


Actual Conditions

Upon arrival to eastern coastal cities such as Zhejiang, Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Shandong, the women are met with a far different reality than that described to them and their parents. Firstly, as they were primarily deceived with hopes of receiving attractive wages; the girls often don't see any of this money. The travel costs promised to them are deducted from their pay, in addition to further deductions. Some women report that they were promised a wage reflecting their hourly work; however upon arrival they would come to find out that they will in fact receive pay only after completion of their job, which they say is impossible to finish on time[14]. Many also complained of garnished wages due to fees unknown to them, along with services or costs promised to them during recruiting, eventually leaving many of them with no payment whatsoever[15].

Women complained of harsh, prison-like work conditions with severe limitations on their freedom, in addition to being forced to work inhumane hours. The food and living conditions have also reportedly turned out to be extremely poor. Some women mentioned that their living quarters had a total lack of privacy, with others reporting that the food was very simple and poor quality - usually being either plain rice or cabbage - and at times with insects to be found therein[16]. In addition to this, independent reports have also suggested that many of these girls are pressured into marriage with local Chinese men, with many facing a punishment which they are unwilling to disclose for their refusing this offer. Moreover, cancelling their work-contract, means the girls and their families are penalized heavily with either unaffordable fines or hasha[17]. In the end, escape means the young women must find their way back home across China penniless and utterly broken[18].


END NOTES

[1] Also spelled Uygur, Uighur and Uigur
[2] Amnesty International, Gross Violations of Human
Rights in the Uighur Autonomous Region, London:
Amnesty International, 1999.
[3] Uyghur Girls Forced Into Labor Far From Home By Local Chinese Officials, http://www.rfa.org/english/uyghur/2007/07/11/uyghur_labor/, 07/11/07, (Accessed 14/02/08).
[4] Ibid.
[5] Deception, Pressure, and Threats: The Transfer of Young Uyghur Women to Eastern China, Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), 08/02/08.
[6] Ibid.
[7] One of 12 administrative sub-regions in the Kashgar (Kashi) Prefecture of Eastern Turkistan
[8] Xinjiang Shehui Kexue in Chinese, 2007 Issue 6 (OSC Summary), 01/02/08.
[9] Hans make up the ethnic majority in China
[10] Deception, Pressure, and Threats: The Transfer of Young Uyghur Women to Eastern China, Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), 08/02/08.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Uyghur Girls Forced Into Labor Far From Home By Local Chinese Officials, http://www.rfa.org/english/uyghur/2007/07/11/uyghur_labor/, 07/11/07, (Accessed 14/02/08).
[14] Deception, Pressure, and Threats: The Transfer of Young Uyghur Women to Eastern China, Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), 08/02/08.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid.
[17]Uyghur Girls Forced Into Labor Far From Home By Local Chinese Officials, http://www.rfa.org/english/uyghur/2007/07/11/uyghur_labor/, 07/11/07, (Accessed 14/02/08).
[18] Ibid.