Hon. Hu Jintao
President, People's Republic of China
Zhongnanhai, Xichengqu, Beijing City
People's Republic of China

Via facsimile

Re: International Children's Day and North Korea

Dear President Hu Jintao,

I am writing to you on behalf of Human Rights Watch to draw your attention to the plight of children from North Korea living in China and children born to Chinese fathers and North Korean mothers living in China.

As the People's Republic of China celebrates International Children's Day on June 1, we urge your government to take immediate measures to ensure that these children have legal identity and access to elementary education. Such measures are in line with China's own laws and obligations under international treaties China has ratified.

Under China's Nationality Law, a child born in China is entitled to Chinese nationality if either parent is a Chinese citizen. China's Compulsory Education Law stipulates that all children shall receive nine years of compulsory and free education, regardless of sex, nationality or race. This is in line with China's obligations under two conventions China has ratified, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The UN Committee that monitors the ICESCR has confirmed that the right to education without discrimination "extends to all persons of school age residing in the territory of a State party, including non-nationals, and irrespective of their legal status." As such, North Korean and half-North Korean children should be able to attend schools in China.

In an April 2008 report, "Denied Status, Denied Education: Children of North Korean Women in China," Human Rights Watch documented that many children in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in eastern Jilin Province live without legal identity or access to elementary education. Some of the children had followed their parents from North Korea, while others were born in China to Chinese fathers and North Korean mothers. Some teachers in northeast China are concerned about the consequences of lack of education for these children.

Schools in Yanbian require a copy of household registration papers (hukou) for enrolment and continuing schooling for children. Children who have migrated to China from North Korea do not have hukou. Families of mixed Chinese and North Korean parents are faced with a difficult decision. If they obtain hukou for their children in order to access an education, this puts the North Korean mother at risk of arrest and deportation, because the mother must also be identified. Alarmingly, we learned that in some parts of Yanbian, local authorities demand written proof that the North Korean mother has been repatriated as a precondition for the Chinese father to register their children.

Forcing parents to choose between breaking up their family and educating their children contravenes the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which obligates China to prevent the separation of children from their parents against their will, unless it has been determined that this is in the best interests of the child.

Leaving North Korea without state permission is considered a crime by North Korea, punishable by imprisonment, forced labor, and, in some cases, the death penalty. As such, many, if not all, North Koreans in China should be treated as refugees since they risk persecution upon return. As a state party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, China must not repatriate North Korean refugees and has obligations to protect and shelter them, but the reality is North Koreans in China are treated as undocumented migrants and are constantly subject to arrest and deportation.

Despite repeated appeals, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has not been given access to North Koreans in China to determine their status. Nor has the office been allowed to protect and shelter more than a few North Korean refugees at any given time.

In light of the above points, and to ensure practices are in line with China's own laws, we strongly urge your government to do the following:

  • Grant all children access to education without preconditions or the requirement to show hukou documentation;
  • Allow hukou for children with one Chinese parent, without requiring verification of identity of the other parent;
  • Stop arresting and summarily repatriating North Koreans, especially children and women who have children with Chinese men;
  • Allow the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees access to North Koreans in China, especially children and their mothers, to determine their status.

Thank you for your time and consideration. We would welcome any opportunity to discuss this important matter further with government officials.


Brad Adams
Director, Asia Division
Human Rights Watch

Cc:   Hon. Wen Jiabao, Premier, People's Republic of China