Universal Children’s Day: Post-Covid, Hong Kong must ensure children’s rights

A girl wearing a face mask at a playground after the lifting of the mask mandate. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

This article was written by Billy Wong. It was first published on Hong Kong Free Press on November 20, 2023, and is republished on Global Voices under a content partnership agreement. 

On Universal Children’s Day on November 20, 2022, Hong Kong society was still living under the pandemic. One year later, wearing a mask has become a personal decision. However, many children are still wearing them in public. Are they telling us that they still haven’t recovered?

At the initial stage of the COVID-19 outbreak, the United Nations warned that the pandemic would inevitably bring a short- and long-term impact on children. Many researchers also warned that lockdowns, school closures, and online learning may delay children’s physical, mental and academic development, especially for young people living in poverty or those with special needs.

As of this month, student suicide cases have been surging. This year, 269 students have attempted to take their own lives, and 37 have succeeded, according to the city’s suicide prevention experts. Factors included academic pressure, family, and interpersonal relationships.

In 2016, the government established the Committee on Prevention of Student Suicide, aimed at finding the reasons behind the issue, and made 13 recommendations for strengthening existing services for preventing student suicide. But how many of these were implemented? Are they effective?

In February this year, we called on the government to conduct a comprehensive review of Hong Kong's COVID-19 policies to ensure children’s rights and well-being were assured during future outbreaks, and to consider how to remedy the harm done to children during the pandemic. Unfortunately, we did not receive a positive response.

Before the pandemic, a year of social unrest triggered by the proposed Extradition Law Amendment Bill seriously disturbed children’s lives. Judicial processes and sentencing have added untold stress and obstacles. Police figures showed that, as of August 31,  2022, 10,279 people had been arrested, and 1,754 of them were teenagers under 18 years old, with the youngest only 11. The longest jail sentence meted out was five years and six months.

Under the current sensitive political atmosphere, conditions for these children are even more difficult to comprehend. Spaces for them to participate in public discussion on social issues have narrowed. Children’s voices are not easily heard — though their problems have increased.

The United Nations passed the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on November 20, 1989, and designated November 20 as Universal Children’s Day to commemorate international commitments and standards for children’s rights. The CRC came into effect in Hong Kong in 1994.

Hong Kong has the lowest birth rate in the world now. In the Policy Address, the government set out measures to promote fertility. However, none of those measures were related to creating a child-friendly environment for the healthy development of children. We need a long-term vision and strategies, financial commitments, and transparency for stakeholders to participate.

Children around the world are facing tremendous challenges. Let’s listen to their voices, try to understand their encounters, and provide safe environments and spaces for them to speak freely and participate.

Billy Wong is the executive secretary of the Hong Kong Committee on Children’s Rights, which is mandated to monitor the child rights situations in Hong Kong and make the voice of children heard by the community.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.