Our beloved city has suffered greatly in recent years, especially children in their crucial developmental years. We need a committed government to lead in rebuilding the city by collaborating with the child welfare community and listening to children and youth directly.
As child rights experts, we have witnessed the harm done to children and the youth in recent years; if not addressed properly, the social cost could be very high. We have urged the government to form an expert-led task force to look into the harm caused to children and young people by the 2019 social unrest and Covid-19 pandemic.
During the 2019 unrest, many children were traumatised by exposure to conflict and social insecurity. Since the unrest, 1,754 children under 18 have been arrested, and around 500 charged. The government needs to allocate funds to help them receive rehabilitative care to support their return to school and society, by collaborating with experts, professional groups and NGOs. Failure to do so would be a costly and unconscionable waste of the next generation.
Lockdowns, school closures, virtual learning, disruption of social interaction and a lack of play space and activities have affected children’s physical and mental development. These years have been particularly challenging for children with special needs and in poverty.
The community has been shocked by the recent string of child abuse cases. The government proposal to introduce mandatory reporting of child abuse is not a panacea, but an essential first step. It must not delay conducting a comprehensive review of child protection laws to codify the “best interests of the child” principle.
The Commission on Children has operated in Hong Kong for over four years as an advisory body. But it hasn’t been able to function with sufficient speed and force due to its structure and absence of clear powers. We urge the government to redesign the commission, following the minimum international standards and drawing reference from the over 200 independent human rights institutions in more than 70 countries.
Public engagement is key to public policy formulation. We urge the government to devise special consultation programmes, channels and imaginative communication strategies to consult and communicate with children. It should begin with the bureaus and departments directly related to children.
We hope the new government will reach out to children and young people more often, and listen to and interact genuinely with them. As child rights advocates, we promise to continue to share our views, represent the interests of children in Hong Kong, and share their views as we understand them.
Billy Wong, executive secretary, Hong Kong Committee on Children’s Rights
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON SCMP