AT A RECENT seminar on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), a five-year-old asked a question that made the audience laugh. 'I can't reach the sink and the urinals in public toilets,' he said. 'Why are there no facilities [catering] for us?' Adopted by the UN in 1989, the UNCRC states that children's opinions should be taken into account in matters that affect their lives. But despite the UNCRC being extended to Hong Kong in 1994, the city has yet to listen to its children. Their voices are important because only they know some of the problems they face, such as the problem with public toilets. 'We always talk about the future of children. But children say, 'Here I am, I have problems that need dealing with now',' said Dr Chow Chun-bong, chairman of the Hong Kong Committee on Children's Rights (HKCCR). That is why the HKCCR is jointly organising a children's council in March next year with Against Child Abuse (ACA) and the Hong Kong Committee of Unicef (United Nations Children's Fund). Issues ranging from the exam system to the minimum age of criminal responsibility (currently seven) will be discussed. Secretary for Home Affairs Patrick Ho Chi-ping will meet participants afterwards to discuss the resolutions. There are also plans to invite officials from other government departments. The children's council forms part of the Child Ambassadors' Scheme, which was set up in 2000 with support from the Home Affairs Bureau. Twenty child ambassadors between the ages of 12 and 16 received training to familiarise them with the UNCRC. They visited Thailand and Switzerland and met the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and members from local children's organisations. 'In these two countries, children are decision-makers,' said Findy Au Kin-yee, 17, one of the ambassadors. She cited the success of a council in Switzerland in initiating changes by labelling places as children-friendly or -unfriendly. 'It is an indication of how much attention the government gives to these organisations,' said another ambassador, Joanne Ng Sin-ting, 14. The children's council to be held next March will be a trial, according to Kelly Leung Pong-ying, a social worker at ACA. 'In the long run, we hope to have a children's parliament debating issues concerning them,' she said. But whether or not this goal will be achieved depends on other factors, such as the readiness of the community to accept that children should have their say. 'Sometimes even parents fail to see things from a child's perspective,' Ms Leung said. Another factor is adult influence. The children's council will need resources and support from adults, but it must not be controlled by adults, she said. Sharing Ms Leung's concern, legislator Cyd Ho Sau-lan added some suggestions. 'Those who will take part in the first council will be [the cream of the crop],' she said. 'But they must not take it only as an arena for personal development. It is a channel between children and the society. 'Participants must be willing to share their experiences with the underprivileged, and think about how well they represent others in speaking their minds.' It would also be important to make government documents easy for children to understand, whether in English or Chinese, Ms Ho said. 'Now we individual legislators are taking up this task. Perhaps the Quality Education Fund can help promote children-friendly policies,' she said. 'The greatest respect we can give to children is to treat them as equals.' All secondary school students under the age of 18 can apply to join the children's council as a school team of five with a teacher as mentor. The deadline is Friday. For enquiries, call Kelly Leung on 2351 6060.