During her first Policy Address, Carrie Lam confirmed her election promise: that Hong Kong would shortly have a Commission dedicated to Children and the issues they face.
The full-length written version of her Policy Address says:
The Government plans to set up a Commission on Children in the middle of next year to amalgamate the efforts made by relevant bureaux/ departments and child concern groups, and focus on addressing children’s issues as they grow. To this end, a preparatory committee chaired by the Chief Executive was established last month, with the Chief Secretary for Administration as the Vice‐chairman. Members of the preparatory committee include the Policy Secretaries of relevant bureaux; experts in children affairs, such as members of the healthcare, education, social welfare and legal sectors; as well as academics and representatives of ethnic minorities and parents...
The preparatory committee held its first meeting early this month to discuss the roles and functions of the Commission on Children as well as its work priorities as suggested by the stakeholders. It will conduct a series of public engagement activities to canvass views from the community extensively including those of children, so as to ensure that the functions and the work of the new Commission on Children will have the support of the community.
This is great news for Hong Kong and especially for the 1.1million children of Hong Kong. It is the result of tireless campaigning by those who work with and for children in the region (to see more information on the campaign for a Children's Commission for Hong Kong). But this is not the end, it is only the beginning. The next task is to ensure that the Children’s Commission is given the powers and resources it will need to be an effective force for positive change in the lives of children and for the recognition of children’s rights as guaranteed under the United Convention of the Rights of the Child (to see CIF publications including work on Children's Commissions).
On 31st August 2017, the Hong Kong Child Fatality Review Panel, a government sponsored body established in 2008, published its Third Report.
The Panel examined 206 child fatalities reported in the Coroner’s Court in 2012-2013. Of the 75 deaths ascribed to unnatural causes, child suicide made up over a quarter of those deaths, with 20 children having taken their own lives. The youngest child to commit suicide was 11 years old. Most of the children who committed suicide did so by jumping from a high building.
In the eight years from 2006 to 2013, a total of 105 children committed suicide. Despite some fluctuations in incidence across the years surveyed, the children’s primary reasons for committing suicide, where these are known, remain remarkably constant: school work problems, family relationship problems, worry about the future and boyfriend/girlfriend problems (see Chart 7.4.2).
It would be unfair to say the Hong Kong Government has not taken steps to address the worrying statistics around child suicide. Paul Yip, the founding Director of the Centre for Suicide Research & Prevention at Hong Kong University noted that “More resources have been spent to equip teachers to detect students who need help, to create more space for students and teachers to build up the relationship, to improve the referral system, involving hospitals, social workers and teachers, for students in need.”
However LegCo member Shiu Ka-chun has criticized the government for the tone of some of the resources it has developed for teachers and earlier this year high school students addressed LegCo directly to challenge research findings that minimized a link between education pressure and student suicide.
The consistent incidence of child suicide, and the causes thereof, in particular worry about school-work, raises children’s rights questions. For example, Art. 6 of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) provides that “States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child”. Art 12 provides that the “child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.” Hong Kong is a signatory to the UNCRC, yet I have not been able to find mention of children’s rights relating to prevention of suicide or Hong Kong’s obligation to its children under the Convention in any of the establishment’s reports or responses, not even in this most recent report from the Child Fatality Review Panel, a body whose members are keenly engaged in the prevention of avoidable child fatalities. Even if explicit reference to children’s rights is deemed ‘unnecessary’ to the actual implementation of those rights, when the steps being taken by the Administration to address child suicide are criticized as inappropriate by law-makers and children themselves, then are these steps really adequate in the context of fulfilling Hong Kong’s obligations under the UNCRC? The specially convened LegCo meeting to hear directly from children about the pressures of academic expectations and school-work ‘Hong Kong style’ is to be welcomed. However, it is a ‘one-off’. Moreover, the Third Report of the Child Fatality Review Panel expressly states that in the majority of child suicides between 2012-2013, the children in question expressed their suicidal ideations but they were either not heard or their views were not actively addressed or given weight.
The Child Fatality Review Panel has said that its purpose is to prevent avoidable child deaths by enhancing social welfare processes, particularly by strengthening cross-sector, multi-disciplinary input. In relation to child suicide, this could be achieved by establishing a Children’s Commission. Such a body would have the expertise to develop appropriate materials for children at risk of suicide and for those who know and work with them, to set up child-friendly, child-accessible communication channels to provide children with expert support. The Commission would also provide a high profile, dedicated channel to gather children’s views and to embed those views within broader child-centred expert knowledge for those who make and implement laws and policies relating to children in Hong Kong. During her successful campaign to be elected as Chief Executive, Carrie Lam Yuet-ngor said she was positive about the inauguration of a Children’s Commission. Surely, the Child Fatality Review Panel’s bleak findings on child suicide are the final impetus the Chief Executive needs to take action and come good on her promise to appoint a Commissioner for the Children of Hong Kong?
If you’re interested in contributing to the discussion about how to establish a Children’s Commission in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Committee on Children’s Rights is hosting a Roundtable on Saturday 23rd September from 2pm-5.30pm at the Central Plaza, Wan Chai. Sign up here to attend
Since November 2016 the LegCo Sub-Committee on children’s rights, led by Chair Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, has met ten times and has discussed a wide range of matters relating to children’s rights. These include child care; education, particularly pressure on students and the spate of recent student suicides; the treatment of children in care and in detention; the needs of vulnerable children including those living in poverty, those living with special needs, as well as refugee and migrant children. The Sub-Committee has canvassed not just an overview of unmet needs and problems faced by children. It has also asked for input from stakeholders on possible solutions. Chief amongst these has been the consideration of the establishment of a Children’s Commission.
At each meeting the Sub-Committee has heard representations from experts drawn from a variety of backgrounds: social work, education, law, medicine, NGOs and other stakeholders. As a result, the papers submitted to the Sub-Committee and the minutes of the meetings now form a veritable archive of data and analysis on the needs and experience of the wide range of children in Hong Kong today.
To hear children’s issues ventilated at such a high level is most welcome. Now let us hope that talk can be transformed into action. One step in the right direction would be to follow the views expressed by those addressing the Sub-Committee and to act on the recommendation of the UN Committee of Children’s Rights by giving Hong Kong’s children a voice in the form of their own Children’s Commission.
Prof. Anne Scully-Hill
CIF Voices is a collaborative effort amongst multi-disciplinary professionals working with children's issues around the world. Views presented are those of individual contributors and not the Children's Issues Forum.