Scant Cheer for China’s Children

China’s 400 million children have little to celebrate on International Children’s Day this year.
2010-06-01
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Chinese parents in Beijing help their babies exercise ahead of International Children's Day, May 31, 2010.
Chinese parents in Beijing help their babies exercise ahead of International Children's Day, May 31, 2010.
AFP

HONG KONG—Many of China’s 400 million children live in “a dire situation,” commentators said, giving the nation little to celebrate on International Children’s Day.

“Chinese children are the weakest group in society,” said Beijing Technical University professor Hu Xingdou, citing recent scandals involving tainted foods and drugs, heavy metal poisonings, collapsing school buildings, and violent attacks on young children.

“Some children in China have been very unlucky—from the toxic milk scandal, to contaminated vaccines, to the earthquake in which a great many children died ... to the recent attacks on and killings of children.”

This year’s International Children’s Day, on Tuesday, comes just days after the latest in a string of brutal attacks on children in Chinese kindergartens and elementary schools, many of them carried out by people seeking revenge on society for injustices they have suffered, experts said.

“The recent string of events leads one to believe that China, including China’s children, is in a dire situation,” said Yang Lili, an editor at the U.S.-based human rights Web site Observe China.

“It’s hard to feel happy [on International Children’s Day], especially because of the recent cases in which children have been attacked and even massacred ... I’m sure they haunt every parent.”

‘Law of the jungle’

Hebei-based freelance writer Zhu Xinxin said he sees the attacks as symptomatic of deep-level social conflicts.

“A lot of the killers were themselves victims of such conflicts. Why would they take out their anger on children? Perhaps they didn’t have enough strength to repress this feeling,” Zhu said.

“It’s the law of the jungle now. Victims have nowhere to win redress. Whoever has money is in charge ... Society is now in a crisis of basic values,” he added.

Beijing high-school teacher Liu Tianyi agreed.

“Dispossessed members of society will find ways to take revenge if they have been themselves victims of oppression and can’t bear it any longer,” he said.

“We are in a new phase now, in which people who may have had their economic power stripped away lose their mental balance and seek revenge,” Liu said.

Other threats

Apart from the attacks, which have led to a wide-scale security clampdown in Chinese schools and daycare centers, Chinese children died in large numbers in two large earthquakes under collapsed school buildings.

Parents who have raised concerns about construction standards have been prevented from taking their complaints to court, and are still being followed and detained by the authorities if they try to draw attention to their cause.

“Chinese children are living in a terrible situation right now,” Yang added.

“China’s economy has been developing over the past few years, but political reforms haven’t kept pace with economic reforms. This has led to a collapse of morals in society. Everything is about money.”

“Chinese children can be viewed as a vulnerable section of the population ... but have been the victims of poor quality goods, such as the toxic milk powder, substandard medicines, and other substandard ... goods. So we can see how the society-wide obsession with money is having an impact on children,” he said.

Lawsuits filed by parents of 300,000 children suffering from kidney stones after drinking milk laced with the industrial chemical melamine have been ignored, too, with lawyers warned off accepting any cases.

At least six children died from drinking tainted milk.

Health and safety

Joseph Amon, director of Health & Human Rights at New York-based Human Rights Watch, said many of the health problems faced by Chinese children, which have included tainted vaccines, were the result of chronic mismanagement in the health-care system.

“They need to investigate the examples of corruption and mismanagement at a local level,” Amon said.

“There are scandals every day. There is evidence of mismanagement.”

He said China has an impressive body of legislation aimed at protecting the public from faulty health-care products.

“[But] many of the mechanisms they already have just aren’t enforced,” he said. “There are laws against corruption; there are laws against negligence that could be enforced,” Amon said.

An editorial in the state-run English-language China Daily newspaper called for a focus on children’s health and safety in the wake of the attacks.

Meanwhile, the Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper online edition said that many children of working parents looked set to spend International Children's Day, on which children in China are traditionally taken out for treats, alone at home.

“According to a reporters’ survey ... most parents (about 60 percent) have to leave their children alone because of their job,” the paper reported.

It quoted parents as calling on the government to make the holiday applicable to parents as well as giving children a day off from school.

Child labor

While China has a full body of legislation aimed at child protection, abuses are still rife throughout the system, according to overseas reports.

The practice of child labor is believed to be “a persistent problem within China” by the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

China is also on the Tier 2 Watch List of the U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report, which says:

“The People’s Republic of China is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation. A significant number of Chinese women and children are trafficked internally for forced marriage and forced labor.”

Original reporting in Mandarin by Han Qing. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated from the Chinese and written in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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