Hong Kong children should be given more time to play and relax, a United Nations committee has recommended.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child released its observations on the issue based on periodic reports submitted by China in accordance with the UN's Convention on the Rights of the Child. Hearings on the subject have been held in the Swiss city of Geneva in the past few weeks.
According to the document, the committee is concerned about the "bullying in schools and competitive nature of the school system in Hong Kong, resulting in anxiety and depression among children and infringing on their right to play and rest".
It recommends the city take steps to reduce the competitive nature of education and promote the right of children to play and enjoy leisure time.
The remarks come as local and mainland parents are busy preparing their children for kindergarten and primary school interviews. A survey conducted by a family welfare group this summer found a fifth of parents in Tin Shui Wai send their children to two kindergartens a day.
Billy Wong Wai-yuk, executive secretary of the Hong Kong Committee on Children's Rights, said Article 31 of the UN convention specifically protects children's right to play and rest. It is, however, the least highlighted article among them all, she said.
"We cannot blame parents," Wong said. "They are not breaking the law, but only showing their love. However, it is necessary to educate them about difficulties faced by children."
Her group campaigns for the establishment of a children's commission as a statutory watchdog for children's rights.
Kathy Wong Kin-ho, executive director of the Playright Children's Play Association, said: "We have the responsibility to bring back our children's childhood."
With the huge number of courses and extracurricular activities pushed upon children, many had lost their motivation to create and explore, she said.
"Children are motivated when they play, and what they learn during the process is reinforced in schools. That's what we need in education."
In Finland, kindergartens are banned from making children write, but international tests show the country's youngsters are the world's best in science and mathematics, she noted.