Commissioner will give children a voice

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 September, 2012, 2:04am

Every day, thousands of children in Hong Kong wake up to a day with more challenges than we can expect them to bear. Although Hong Kong is a relatively wealthy society, too many children fall outside the safety net.

Even in a complex and modern society, services to children will be fragmented and poorly co-ordinated and less effective than necessary if the system is not monitored by an independent and powerful agency.

This is the main reason why Hong Kong should appoint a commissioner for children.

I have eight years' experience (2004-12) being an ombudsman - or commissioner - for children in Norway. During my recent visit to Hong Kong, I had the honour of being received at Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's office together with a commissioner for children from Australia, a group of young people from Hong Kong and two local child rights advocates. Our mission was to lobby for a commissioner for children, and I am glad we were met in such a positive way.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child recommends that every state should establish official and independent human rights institutions for children. Although established through law, a commissioner for children should not be a part of the governmental structure.

Being independent means that the commissioner cannot be instructed by anyone, and that he/she recruits his or her own staff.

Although many children in Hong Kong live a safe and secure life, a substantial part of the young generation have challenges that affect their development and life quality.

Too many children in Hong Kong live in poverty, and too many experience violence and neglect. Furthermore, a lot of children experience an extremely competitive school environment, and many feel stressed.

The commissioner should monitor institutions working in the field of the rights of the child, such as welfare, education and juvenile justice.

He or she should also contribute to the more rapid identification of emerging problems for children. A commissioner would also bring voices of children across to the people with power to bring about change.

My mandate in Norway ended this summer, and my chair is taken over by Dr Anne Lindboe. I will bring back the message to her that I believe she will have a colleague in Hong Kong in the not-too-distant future.

Reidar Hjermann, Tonsberg, Norway


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