United Nations

UN wants a children's commission in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 November, 2012, 3:48am


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Stories of malnourished children in Hong Kong range from the sad to the tragic.

It is sad to read of families which do not have enough money to feed their children properly. Then there are tragic stories, such as the case of a baby who starved to death from being fed diluted formula milk ("'Cruel' mother jailed for starving baby", October 30). This was reminiscent of another court case reported in May 2010.

There have been repeated calls for a children's commission in Hong Kong and it is now time for it to be established. Such a body would be asking why Hong Kong does not have a nutrition policy for children.

Had the city adopted the World Health Organisation's recommendation on Infant and Young Child Feeding as a policy, all government bureaus would be obliged to work together to enable mothers to exclusively breastfeed their babies. The risks of feeding formula milk and, in particular, that of diluted formula would be minimised. Furthermore, research has shown that mothers who breastfeed are less likely to neglect their children.

Obviously, with regard to the two court cases, these babies died in families with problems apart from infant feeding. Both families were known to social workers. However, the courts held the parents responsible for what happened. Indeed they had a primary duty of care towards their babies. The Comprehensive Child Development Service co-ordinated by the Social Welfare Department identifies and follows up babies born into at-risk families.

A children's commission would have wanted to know why opportunities for intervention were lost and more importantly, how such tragedies could be prevented. The current non-statutory Child Fatality Review mechanism which delays a review till after all legal proceedings have been completed, which could be years, and relies on voluntary reports from agencies and information from the coroner is far from satisfactory.

Next year, Hong Kong officials should be attending a hearing on the government's report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The committee has asked Hong Kong repeatedly to set up a children's commission.

This is a golden opportunity for the new administration to demonstrate its commitment to upholding every child's right to life, protection and development in Hong Kong by confirming in the chief executive's policy address the establishment of an independent children's commission in Hong Kong.

Dr Patricia Ip, chairperson, Unicef Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative Hong Kong Association