Hong Kong protests: Hong Kong Paediatric Foundation charity calls for public action on child health

Hong Kong protests: Hong Kong Paediatric Foundation charity calls for public action on child health

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A child charity is concerned about 'toxic stress' and the effects of the protests on minors.
Photo: Winson Wong/SCMP

The Hong Kong Paediatric Foundation, a charity founded by child health professionals recentlly released a statement expressing deep concern about the effects of the recent social movement on the health of children in Hong Kong.

In the statement, they note that “Physical and any kinds of violence, chemical weapons, plastic bullets, brutal arrest and unfair law enforcement are totally unacceptable because they are detrimental to the health (moral and mental especially) of our children.”

In addition, they expressed concern about “toxic stress”, pointing out there is no specific treatment for the damage of toxic stress and saying the effects can be permanent and possibly even transgenerational. According to the Centre on the Developing Child, toxic stress happens after a child is exposed to stress for a prolonged time. The extended stress response can affect the long term development and health of the child.

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The Foundation has appealed for peace to allow children to rebuild trust in relationships and undergo psychological restoration - easing their stress after major incidents of the social movement.

They called on the government to take children's mental health seriously, saying it has been grossly ignored by our Government throughout the years. The repeated their call for a comprehensive child health policy for Hong Kong, an independent commissioner for children who would have statutory power and for a  commission for  children with adequate resources and power.

The foundation proposes the government should call on all parties to stop all forms of violence, and stressed that law enforcement departments must follow their General Orders and protocols when dealing with minors under arrest.

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The plan also supports setting up an independent inquiry committee to review the entire social movement. The plan further points out media and information literacy should emphasised and laws should be passed to prevent fake news and hate speech. They also called for public education on the subject.

The foundation further said that Hong Kong needs genuine trust, social justice, equity, freedom, communication and connection. It also needed to give adolescents the space to build their future. 

Speaking to Young Post, pediatrician and secretary general of the foundation Dr Lilian Wong Hiu-lei, said their panel, which includes professional doctors, social workers and teachers found society focused on a political solution to the current unrest, but neglected the rights and health of youth. "We observed that as the protests continued for months, long term stress became an issue which affects the development of youth," she said, refering to their statment on the dangers of toxic stress "According to the United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child, children should be protected. But is the govenment protecting them right now?"

The panel also believes that the rapid flow of information online and using social media is causing cyberbullying and other problems, such as the spead of fake news. "Information literacy education is essential to giving youth the ability to understand and differentate between fake and real news." she said.

"We don't want to interfere with freedom of speech or the press, but we think it is reasonable for some measures to be taken to protect children." said Wong. "For example in the UK, social media is resticted to those at least 13 years old and the Children's Commissioner plays a role in demanding those rules be enforced."

"The government must listen to children and look beyond satisfying their material needs. They don't listen, but we hope they will and we are willing to facilate this communication." 

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Kerry Hoo

21:47pm