Some Uyghurs are involved petty crime. Some hang out around train stations in large cities and pick pockets. Others sell hashish and heroin. Some Uyghurs say these punks have given Uyghurs a bad name. Many of police that work in Uyghur areas are Uyghurs.

Ilham Tohti wrote: “Since the 1990s, rapid marketization in Xinjiang has produced a great deal of economic development. Unequal development opportunities among ethnic groups have grown more apparent. Certain developments within Uyghur communities have been particularly worrying. Theft, pickpocketing, drug trafficking, drug abuse, and prostitution–vices against which a devoutly religious people as the Uyghurs are supposed to have natural resistance—have gotten so bad that our entire ethnic group is suddenly perceived as a crime-prone community. The Uyghurs have fallen mercilessly into the fate of the“Malthusian trap.” [Source: Ilham Tohti, January 17, 2011, published in China Change, April 6, 2014 ~]

“In recent years, criminals have abducted, lured, or kidnapped Uyghur children and brought them to the interior of China, where their pickpocketing is increasingly a serious social problem. It disturbs local people’s sense of security and also damages the reputation of the entire ethnic community. ~

“At the same time, these serious social problems have become a forbidden subject for study, creating a discursive void. Few dare to touch upon these problems directly, let alone conduct systematic social investigations and analyses in search for solutions. On the one hand, the Uyghurs’social problems lead to increasing dissatisfaction and distrust of the government and of Han people; on the other, discriminatory ideas against the Uyghur people among members of Han society—especially in the interior of China—grow deeper. ~

Uyghur Street Children

There are a number of Uyghur street children in major Chinese cities. Many of them are forced to work as petty thieves, According to a report by Xinjiang Academy of Social Science, 90 percent of the Uyghur children wandering in inland China are abducted and most of the children were from the southern part of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Data from Xinjiang salvation management indicates that that 90 percent of the 3660 street children who were rescued in inland China and returned to Autonomous Region were from southern part of the Region. [Source: Lai Dan and Muzappar Qurban, Phoenix Weekly, Issue 17, 2007 ~]

In 1980s, some grown up thieves ‘penetrated’ to inland China and they started using children to shield adult thieves. The groups that manipulate the abducted children to steal appeared in 1988. Lai Dan and Muzappar Qurban wrote in Phoenix Weekly, “ A person from Ministry of Civil Affairs says that 12.7 percent of the Uyghur street children are rescued but sheltering the Uyghur children is difficult by various reasons. It means that the number of the Uyghur street children disclosed is not reflecting the actual huge number of them. Xinjiang regional government welfare agency announced that the number of Uyghur children wandering in inland China is 4000, yet private groups report larger number. According to the statistics of Public Security Department of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the percentage of minority criminals raised from 14.2 percent (2000) to 19.5 percent (2005). The crimes by Uyghur street children drastically increased and the the number of prosecutable offenses doubled up in 2005, comparing to the ones in 2000. ~

The jailed Uyghur activist Ilham Tohti said he was very concerned about the street children issue. He said the issue destroys children’s lives, deepens the conflict between the different ethnic groups and can be misapplied by the radical separatists. The Chinese government has taken some action on the issue of Uyghur street children. In February 2006, Communist Party of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region held Standing Committee that concluded to operate the special act on the crimes of abducting the minorities and save the Xinjiang street children with the joint effort of the provinces, autonomous regions and direct-controlled mutuality with the instruction from Zhou Yongkang on the issue. The ministry of public security organized the special supervising groups to save Xinjiang street children and strengthened the regulation on abducting the minors. By January 2007, 51 salvation management stations and shelters for street children were set up and they succeeded to shelter around 24,500 beggars and street children. ~

Reasons for High Number of Uyghur Street Children

Lai Dan and Muzappar Qurban wrote in Phoenix Weekly, “Xiaoxia Li, from Xinjiang Academy of Social Science esteems that high rate of divorce, unemployment, overpopulation, serious poverty and corruption of government margins in southern Xinjiang are producing the street children. Most of the poor people live in southern Xinjiang and 23 out of 35 impoverished states in Xinjiang are located in southern Xinjiang. [Source: Lai Dan and Muzappar Qurban, Phoenix Weekly, Issue 17, 2007 ~]

“Salvation management stations in Xinjiang that investigated on 93 Xinjiang street children reported that 17 percent of the, did not have a parent or parents, and a quarter of the children had stepparents. Even if they are rescued, they will probably keep wandering around as they do not have people to take care of them—they have no skills apart from thieving and they will be released in a few hours even they get caught time and time again. At maturity, they will be the ‘Boss’ or ‘Supervisor’ and abduct the minors and train them to be thieves. Then the victims turn into victimizers.

Kidnapping of Uyghur Children

Lai Dan and Muzappar Qurban wrote in Phoenix Weekly, In Aksu the word ‘ichkirchi’ describes “a person who commit kidnapping to earn money in inland China. The residents there do not like the way those people earn money from yet they envy their wealth. ‘There is a mansion in my residential area and that is the house of abductors’. ‘Some parents sell children as kebab seller to those gangsters from the poverty’. A person who rescued a several children said. ‘In Hotan, remittance letters from all over China are delivered to the villages every day. It is same as a worker gets paid and sends the money’. One postman from Hotan post office told the media. [Source: Lai Dan and Muzappar Qurban, Phoenix Weekly, Issue 17, 2007 ~]

“If his older sister did not force Anwar to memorize the house phone number, he would not have been able to see his mother again. Anwar, a Uyghur, was born in Kargilik, Kashgar. His parents divorced when he was 2 years old and he was brought up by his grandmother. Anwar as an elementary school student, he was a smart student who always scored the best 3 in the marks and he was even chosen to be the class representative. ~

“In the afternoon of 27 April 2005, the nightmare-like thing happened. A taxi stopped in front of Anwar on the way from school and a guy in the car offered Anwar chocolates and talked to him nicely. After eating chocolates, Anwar got on the taxi unable to think properly. He was transferred to a white car and when he got his consciousness back, he was in Lanzhou. Anwar was then taken to Guangzhou, the city more than 5000 kilometers away from his home. In a humble room, Anwar and another boy who was also abducted were placed under severe scrutiny. The man abducted them ordered them to call him ‘Boss’. ~

Uyghur Street Children Theft Rings

Describing the street children theft ring he studied, Xilfa Xu from Xinjiang Academy of Social Science told the Phoenix Weekly, “There are children aged between 3 and 16. Majority of them are between 10 and 13. While the little child clings to the target to get attention, the older child steals from the target. There is an old man in the group. He’s the cook for the thieves’.‘In some cities, the margins of the authorities expect the thieves to spend the money locally and they do not take action against them. [Source: Lai Dan and Muzappar Qurban, Phoenix Weekly, Issue 17, 2007 ~]

One child told Xi: “There were 16 adults and 4 children in my theft group and we lived somewhere difficult to be found. 2 adults and 2 children shared a room. 4 adults watched a child stealing. Adults held knives to threaten the theft victims in case the victims try to scream or make fusses after being snatched by children. The adults forced me to pick up a coin from boiling water and when I failed, I got whipped by a belt. The boy lived with me was 11 years old and he had been abducted a month from my arrival. He ran away once but he got caught and he was nearly beaten to death when he was returned’. Darhan, the rescued child, said that all the abducted children had to overcome the harsh ‘practical lessons. ‘Boss’ sets the daily quota (500 to 2000 Yuan in average) and those children who cannot reach the quota or try to run away are beaten up. Some ‘Bosses’ get children addicted to drugs or gambling and girls are generally abused sexually. They do that to tighten the control over children. Children successfully run away from ‘Boss’ often falls for another ‘Boss’. ~

Xi said: “When I ask them if they had their meals, they answer if they do not hand out the things that they stole, they do not get fed but get beaten. One newcomer was terrible in thieving and often got caught and beaten by the ‘Boss’. His father passed away and his mother had a traffic accident. He was taken from home by human trafficker....As they have nothing to do in the day time, the older children bring the young ones to the city. They follow people and wait for the opportunity to pickpocket them. In the night, they return to Xinjiang restaurants and work as kebab grillers. A child we caught was so young and we released him immediately. Then I saw him grilling kebab at the entrance of a Xinjiang restaurant the next day. He probably felt awkward and asked me to have some kebab. ~

Training a Uyghur Child to Be a Street Criminal

Lai Dan and Muzappar Qurban wrote in Phoenix Weekly, After Anwar was abducted and taken to Guangzhou “Boss’ took three boys to the market for a ‘practical lesson’. Anwar realized that his job was ‘theft’ at that time. Anwar knew it was against law and Allah would punish the thieves. ‘Boss’ bashed Anwar for not wanting to steal things. [Source: Lai Dan and Muzappar Qurban, Phoenix Weekly, Issue 17, 2007 ~]

“Anwar’s first ‘practical lesson’ did not work out at all. One boy handed over a mobile phone which he stole from someone and told Anwar to run. Anwar stumbled after receiving the mobile and ran for a few dozens of meters. The person who owned the mobile caught Anwar and tried to take him to the police station but the ‘Boss’ who had been close by all the time took Anwar back. ‘Boss’ slapped Anwar harshly for not being able to escape from the owner of the phone on returning to the hideout. After having ‘practical lessons’ for a week, ‘Boss’ ordered Anwar to start working officially. As Anwar refused, ‘Boss’ whipped Anwar’s thighs with a belt and the ‘practical lessons’ were extended for another week. -

“After completing 2-weeks ‘practical lessons’, Anwar started working as a thief. He was not afraid to steal any more. He was afraid to be beaten for failing the theft. Anwar saw a woman eating and walking at the entrance of a supermarket. Anwar followed her and stole her wallet unzipping her bag. As ordered, Anwar passed the 650 Yuan and bank cards to a fellow boy, who was 13, so that he can give those to ‘Boss’. It was the 15th day in Guangzhou for Anwar and his first successful theft by himself. ~

Uyghur Street Girls

Lai Dan and Muzappar Qurban wrote in Phoenix Weekly, “Nurgul is a 12 year-old girl who was abducted and sold. Being under the custody of anti-theft team, Nurgul said that her hometown was Akus and she only had stepfather there as her mother had passed away by car accident...An Uyghur police officer from Anyang and a Uyghur interpreter visited her the next morning. After talking with them, the girl told them a different story. She said the stepfather was actually in Anyang and he was the one who brought her to Anyang. After being questioned, she again changed the story saying that the person who brought her there was not the stepfather but a husband of her mother’s sister’s and in the end, she said the person who bought her was her mother’s brother. It was clear that the girl was lying as she was taught from ‘Boss’. [Source: Lai Dan and Muzappar Qurban, Phoenix Weekly, Issue 17, 2007 ~]

“After great effort, Ilham Tohti found out that Nurgul’s stepfather was living in Akus as she had told him in the first conversation. On the return to Beijing, Ilham told us ‘I have never seen a 12 year-old girl looking so aged with such hatred eyes’ looking at Nurgul’s photo. Ilham telephoned the salvation management station and talked to Nurgul softly. The girl kept weeping and didn’t say a word in the beginning. ‘The law has changed and you’re going to be imprisoned for thieving even if you are 10 or 12 years old now. And how are you going to get married in the future being in such situation?’ Ilham Tohti lied to make her tell the truth. ‘You are a Muslim, aren’t you?’ he added noticing the girl was being off guarded slightly. ‘I am’. She was even afraid of her own people and her voice was shivering. ‘Aren’t you afraid of Allah’s punishment?’ Ilham knows Allah’s almightiness on Uyghurs in Xinjiang. ‘I am afraid’ the girl was being convinced over tie. ~

‘Didn’t they (abductors) touch you?’ Ilham asked her managing his anger. He knows that many Uyghur street girls are abused sexually. ‘They did, and the man slept with me.’ Having such experience at the age of 12 will be a nightmare for a lifetime for a girl. ‘Nurgul has been raped, not only by one man.’ After hanging up the phone, Ilham could not hold his anger any more. ‘Never ever return her to the ‘Boss’’, he said to Quan Jin. Ilham has a daughter a little older than Nurgul. There is a Chinese saying ‘Love other children like loving own child’ but he is too busy to save his own ethnic children to look after his own daughter. ~

“On the third day of Nurgul being at the salvation management station, a policeman in Xinjiang put Nurgul’s stepfather on the phone to talk with Ilham and he started to argue with Ilham. Nurgul’s stepfather said ‘I can’t afford the transport and I can’t take care of her. You stay away from this, stranger’. Ilham got upset and said ‘you are going to come and pick her up if we pay for it, aren’t you?’ Nurgul’s stepfather replied ‘I’m busy. Call me later’ and hang up. He never picked up the phone after that. ~

“A few dozens of people from Xinjiang blocked the entrance of the police office crying and making fuss. They claimed themselves Nurgul’s relatives and demanded the release of the child. Because the police could not find Nurgul’s family, they had no choice but to approve the release. Though Quan Jia and his team repeatedly requested the salvation management station to postpone the release, salvation management station could not keep her against the order and Nurgul was taken by the human trafficker again. When Ilham found out Nurgul was released, he again asked a police officer in Akus. Being unable to get any information or solution in 3 days, the officer called Ilham and said ‘We can’t do anything now. We did our best. Police department of Akus has not enough budgets and it’s not their duty to take care of her. On top of that, we suspect the stepfather sold her off.’ ~

“Gurandum is a 12 year-old girl from Kashgar. She was caught by an anti-theft group in Guilin and sent to the local police station. The girl was dressed in cheap and frowsy clothes with eyes wide open with fears and sorrow in the photo. She told the police that she and 5 other children were abducted and taken to Guilin together and they were forced to pickpocket. The girl asked the police to take her home but she did not know her home address nor contact numbers. The police had to follow the regulation and release her as they could not contact her family. She was taken by the ‘Boss’ who waited her at the entrance of the police station and now she repeats the routine of thieving, detention and release. ‘I want to go home but I don’t know the way’ ~

Police and Street Children Criminals

Quan Jia. A street child activist told the Phoenix Weekly, street children thieves “do not run from police. They know that the police would not catch them and even if they did, they would release the children quickly. They never speak Chinese with the police but they do with us a little. One child tried to bribe me when I caught him. He said he would treat me a meal or give me a mobile that he stole. Another child asked me why we catch them even police or security guards never catch them. Then he quoted the legislation and asked us what accounts made us catch him. That act must be trained by the adults. [Source: Lai Dan and Muzappar Qurban, Phoenix Weekly, Issue 17, 2007 ~]

Uyghur children are not sent to the salvation management stations and even if the police catch them, they are immediately released on anyone’s claim. Uyghur children are caught and released over and over. Their ‘Bosses’ wait for them at the entrance of the police station to take them in. ~

One police officer told Phoenix Weekly: “They are minors and cannot be charged criminally, the amount they steal does not expose them to the criminal charges and they pretend not to understand Chinese even they do understand. If we arrest a Uyghur child, the Uyghurs start making mass noises and it can set fire on ethnic issues. It’s better not to make troubles. We generally detain them for a few hours for form’s sake and release them.” ~

Uyghur Children Rescued from Street Crime

Lai Dan and Muzappar Qurban wrote in Phoenix Weekly, “Anwar was arrested again on 22nd July 2006. Generally he was released after a few hours of detention but it was different this time. Anwar met young Uyghur policeman, Ghulamjan. Ghulamjan questioned him softly and offered him food and drinks. Ghulamjan treated Anwar like his own little brother and brought him to his dorm. Anwar strongly felt he wanted to live and he knelt down and begged Ghulamjan to send him home. ‘You are still alive!’ Anwar’s grandmother wept on the phone. At 1:30 in the morning, Anwar’s mother got on an airplane and rushed to the police station to find her son missing for more than a year. [Source: Lai Dan and Muzappar Qurban, Phoenix Weekly, Issue 17, 2007 ~]

“The day after I took Anwar to my dorm, the ‘Boss’ found out my mobile number and called me to negotiate the price of Anwar using threats’. Ghulamjan sighed angrily. ‘They are being so audacious’. From the inability of the authorities on the Uyghur street childre n matter, the residents put blame on the children. On the internet, the emotional accusation against ‘Uyghur thieves’ are flooded, the private anti-theft groups released the exhortation to fight against thieves with violence and the photos of Uyghur street children beaten and covered with blood are posted. ~

Xilfa Xu from Xinjiang Academy of Social Science told the Phoenix Weekly,‘One Uyghur child was sold and became thief in Shanghai. He was sent to police after 3 years of theft life. He cried and hid in the corner of the room whenever someone lifted his or her arm. He kept naan all the time and he had a bite whenever he was hungry. The policemen started weeping when they dressed him with new clothes for his journey home. The child who was not even 10 years old and he had around 200 scars all over his body. The child’s family was very wealthy and the grandfather shed tears without a word. He compressed his lips till bleeding. In the end, the old man said ‘I’ll give you 1,000,000 Yuan, so please let me kill the abductor myself.’ ‘One Han internet user in Xinjiang is appealing to the anti-theft groups in inland China not to assault the thieves too much. He is hoping that more people will realize the miserable fate of ‘Xinjiang thieves’. He is appealing ‘Please don’t beat children too harsh’. Each child is a treasure for the nation.” ~

Uyghurs Rescued from Thai Trafficking Camp

In March 2014, police rescued about 200 people believed to be Muslim Uyghurs from a human smuggling camp in southern Thailand. Andrew R.C. Marshall of Reuters wrote: “The raid is further evidence that human smugglers in southern Thailand - already a notorious trafficking hub for Rohingya boat people from Myanmar - are exploiting well-oiled networks to transport other nationalities in large numbers, despite an ongoing crackdown by Thai police. "The human smugglers are expanding their product range," said Police Major General Thatchai Pitaneelaboot, who has launched a series of raids on trafficking camps in southern Thailand. [Source: Andrew R.C. Marshall, Reuters, March 14, 2014 ^|^]

“The suspected Uyghurs were discovered in a hilly rubber plantation in an area where the Reuters report identified at least three camps used by Rohingya smugglers last year. The camp guards fled as police approached, Thatchai said. Those rescued included at least 100 children, most of them toddlers or still breastfeeding, and a pregnant woman. They now sit on plastic mats in a parking lot at the regional immigration headquarters - the nearest police detention center is too full of Rohingya and Bangladeshis to accommodate them. Police say the group claims they are Turkish, although they have no documents to prove that. ^|^

“The group in Hat Yai shows strong similarities to Turkic-speaking Uyghur asylum-seekers who have been detained in Bangkok, police sources say. In a possibly related incident, Malaysian police arrested 62 people who had illegally crossed the porous border between Thailand and Malaysia, the New Straits Times newspaper reported. They also claimed to be Turkish, although it is highly unusual for Turks to seek asylum in this way. ^|^

“Thai police are struggling to officially identify the group detained in Hat Yai. So far, none of them has spoken more than a few words of Arabic, even to local Thai Muslims who have arrived to offer help. Their silence is only broken by the mewling of children. They all have fair, Caucasian features and the women wear headscarves which leave only the eyes uncovered. "These people will refuse to acknowledge Chinese citizenship to avoid being forcibly repatriated," said Kayum Masimov, president of the Montreal-based Uyghur Canadian Society. "They will simply refuse to talk. They fear for their safety." Masimov spoke by telephone to the man identified by police as the group's leader and said he understood the Uyghur language. The leader gestured toward men not to talk when Reuters approached them. "The leader says who can talk and who cannot talk," said Thatchai, the police major-general. ^|^

“The 200 people in Thailand were part of what Masimov called an "unprecedented" exodus of Uyghurs from western China in recent years. "We have never had so many people leaving our homeland," he said. A Chinese diplomat had arrived to assess the situation, while Turkish officials were en route from Bangkok, police said. ^|^

Image Sources:

Text Sources: 1) “ Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China”, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K.Hall & Company, 1994); 2) Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, ~; 3) Ethnic China *\; 4) \=/; 5), the Chinese government news site | New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated July 2015

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