Introduction: Hong Kong children face numerous health, welfare and safety concerns. Almost twenty percent of all children in Hong Kong live below the poverty line without adequate nutrition. Recent tragic child abuse cases highlight the urgent need for a more effective coordinated child protection system. There are high rates of school bullying and parental corporal punishment. Students suffer mental health issues related to academic, family and social pressures. These concerns highlight the need for a comprehensive and holistic approach to children’s health, welfare and protection in Hong Kong. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (“UNCRC”) to which Hong Kong is a signatory obliges the Government to implement proper measures to respect children’s rights as enshrined in the Convention and to establish a national mechanism with a clear mandate to monitor children’s rights. A multi-disciplinary group of stakeholders including medical, legal, social work and education professionals, NGOs and community groups have urged the Government to establish an independent “Children’s Ombudsman” or “Commissioner” to advocate for Hong Kong children with power to investigate all complaints related to child rights and interests. There is also international pressure - the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (“UN Committee”) has repeatedly encouraged the Hong Kong Government to establish an independent Children’s Commissioner.
The Chief Executive has made “good governance” a top Government priority stating in 2017: "Good governance is vital, whether in discharging the responsibilities of the Government as a 'service provider' or a 'regulator', or in taking up the new roles of the Government as a 'facilitator' and 'promoter'…”. Soon thereafter the Chief Executive announced the formal establishment of a new Hong Kong “Commission on Children” in May 2018 providing reason for cautious optimism. This article evaluates this new Commission and asks how the performance of the Commission as promoter of children’s rights and interests in Hong Kong can be improved? A discussion of challenges facing Hong Kong children – one of the main stakeholders of the Commission - provides important context for this evaluation. Thereafter, the rationale for establishing a Children’s Commissioner or Ombudsman as an aspect of good governance are discussed, along with the attributes they need to be effective. The Government’s historical approach to monitoring children’s rights and interests is then considered, along with comparative research on the approaches of Norway, UK and Australia relating to Children’s Commissioners. This provides a basis for analyzing the role and functions, composition and structure, policy and research focus and financial resources of the new Commission on Children. The Government’s decision to establish this Commission, while important, does not go far enough. To be effective, this Commission must evolve into an independent statutory body grounded in the UNCRC with enhanced powers of advocacy, investigation, monitoring and reporting. Swift reform is necessary to ensure the Commission adopts a rights-based systemic approach for improving advocacy and protection for children and develops the necessary credibility and high levels of public trust . This is an important human rights and good governance imperative for Hong Kong... Click here to download the full paper.