In a developed society like Hong Kong, issues surrounding children are often linked to spoiled kids and behavioral problems. However, less attention is paid to the greater concern of child abuse.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has found that more than one billion children are exposed to various forms of violence every year.
According to the Social Welfare Department, 1,064 child abuse cases were reported in Hong Kong in 2018, the highest number since 1981.
This month, an unfortunate incident where a mother allegedly killed her intellectually handicapped 21-year-old son shocked many and shed light on the ill-treatment of minors and the handicapped.
“In wealthier cities such as Hong Kong, children’s rights are not a problem,” said Michelle Leung, founder of ReadingMile, a charity focused on developing positive personalities and reading habits. “But adults are under great pressure and don’t have the right ways to alleviate it, resulting in rising cases of child abuse.”
A volunteer who sponsors 10 children through Plan International Hong Kong, Leung recalls an intellectually handicapped 10-year-old child she once met at a special education needs center in Xi’an, Shanxi.
“The staff would beat the children with sticks if they made mistakes,” she said. “Some older children were empowered by the staff to punish the younger ones in the same way.”
Leung later found that the 10-year-old would beat himself, even when no one noticed his errors. He also told her: “I don’t want to be beaten any more, I’m beaten by parents at home and at school.”
She said: “Many children, especially those with intellectual disabilities, are usually not good at expressing themselves or making them vulnerable.”
While doing research for her new book, Leung also realized that many children did not know that mental illnesses were diseases. She once saw a case where the child was being abused by his divorced mother, who had depression and alcoholism. It was only when his teacher spotted the situation that both received help.
Leung has channeled her experiences and research into a new seven-book series on children’s rights, titled We Are Children Treasure Box. “Publishing a series of books on children’s rights was always part of ReadingMile’s plan,” Leung said.
“While working with Plan, we realized that though the market was not lacking books on this topic, they were not structured and organized. And most of the existing books were in English, which was no good for most local families in Hong Kong.”
Inspired by UNCRC’s four principles – non-discrimination, the best interests of the child, the right to survival and development and the views of the child – the seven books are We Are The Boss of Our Mind & Body; No Go Tell 1 and 2; Say No to Bullying; Please Give Me a Hug, Say No to Violence; and We Are All Equal. The stories are all based on real cases Leung and PIHK have encountered. There are also games, a children’s checklist, a certificate and a parent’s guide available for download to keep children engaged.
To cater to the local audience, the picture books are in simplified and traditional Chinese, as well as English, and are accompanied by audiobooks.
Some of Leung’s friends wondered if it was appropriate to tell children that their closest family members might hurt them, while others said that parents who abuse their children would not read the books.
Yet what’s most important, she said, is that when parents tell these stories, children may become aware of peers who are suffering and help them when needed.
“What we hope is that this comprehensive series will allow children to learn more about how they might be hurt and how to protect themselves,” Leung said. “Children should learn about their rights to better protect themselves and also help others.”
The series is available on ReadingMile’s website for HK$580, and HK$100 from each purchase will be donated to PIHK’s protection programs.
(This article was published at The Standard on September 29, 2020: Education: A new chapter on children’s rights )