Rights of children, Rights for all
In any country of the world, and no less so in Hong Kong, the grief felt after the loss of a child is a recognisable and universal sentiment. Every parent hopes and expects their child will grow and develop, to realise their potential, and lead a happy and fulfilling life. It must also be recognised that the death of a child, whether at birth, or in their formative years is known to be especially tough on mothers. My grandmother once commented to me when she was 86yrs old, how tough it was to have out-lived half of her own four children!
Of course there are a range of cultural, social and political factors that may intervene to shape a child’s life. Boys and girls, for example, may be treated differently. These same factors that shape human life may also determine how parental grief is experienced. Do parents have spiritual or religious beliefs that help them cope with their grief, for instance?
In mainland China, a drastic one-child policy was introduced in 1979 by leader Deng Xiaoping to curb the rapidly growing population. Then when China replaced the one-child mandate with a two-child policy in 2015, an unintended consequence of the one-child policy became even more apparent as chronicled in the book by Mei Fong, “One Child: Life, Love and Parenthood in Modern China”.
A large number of mainland Chinese parents have lost their only child born under the one-child policy to illness, accident, or suicide. Referred to as shidu families (shidu jiating) in official documents, media reports, and by bereaved parents themselves, the majority of these families are unable to have another child due to age. As Chinese society is increasingly child-centered, coping with child loss is particularly challenging for these shidu parents. First they have to make sense of their loss after having practiced the child-centered ideal, then redefine their personhood in a child-centered society, and finally find ways to cope with child loss as they continue to live in a child-centered environment.
Given this emotional bond parents and other adults have for children, it is logical to be concerned about the rights and welfare of children and to extend a similar affection and attachment to all living humans. Aren’t we all somebody’s son or daughter? The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) serves to both protect and nurture. The Chinese government has signed and ratified this treaty. Every human deserves to be treated with respect and dignity, to be allowed or indeed encouraged to reach their full potential. Since Hong Kong is legally considered a part of China under the One country, Two systems policy, the human rights legislation, policies and practices in HK and also the rest of the nation are of great significance.
The value of human life, whether our own or other’s, has been described in a long-standing treaty prepared after the end of World War II. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December, 1948. The Declaration consists of 30 articles affirming an individual's rights which, although not legally binding in themselves, have been elaborated in subsequent international treaties, economic transfers, regional human rights instruments, national constitutions, and other legislation.
The Declaration was the first step in the process of formulating the International Bill of Human Rights, which was completed in 1966, and came into force in 1976, after a sufficient number of countries had ratified them. China is a signatory to both the UN Charter and the UDHR, but has not ratified either the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In fact China signed the ICCPR in 2009, but has delayed its ratification ever since. Some opinions state that China undermines those rights that ought to be protected under the ICCPR, and ought to therefore 'unsign'.
As it is politically inconvenient for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to acknowledge mistakes or any immoral-wrong doing on their part, they do not embrace the notion of global universal values. They dismiss Western concepts of free speech, liberal democracy and civil rights in favor of tough authoritarian control aimed at growing the economy and raising living standards. Their revisionist ideas promote community over individualism. The CCP policy takes an either/or approach in which economic development and social harmony are favoured at the expense of individual liberty. It is not considered that these two may be in any way related or interdependent.
For as long as China has been criticized for its human rights record, the People’s Republic has tried to redefine those human values set in the UDHR, to cast respect for life in its own specifically Chinese mould. In this attack on the ideas that threaten it, the Chinese propaganda machine has worked for more than 25 years to refute human rights criticism from abroad as illegitimate and uninformed. The very definitions of the terms “Universal” and ‘human rights” have been re-shaped to accommodate contemporary reality and divergent contexts.
In September 2015, China’s president, Xi Jinping, presented his vision of a “Community with Shared Future for Mankind” to the UN General Assembly. Then in January 2017 he gave a detailed speech on the subject in Geneva. In his concept for a new sense of community, there would be peace, security, prosperity, openness, respect, inclusion, cleanliness, beauty, and harmony. Humanity would grow to be one big family and the desire of all for a good life would be realized. It is upon this basis that China continues to develop its ‘social credit system’. China has garnered support from a number of quarters for this revisionist view of the pathway to humanity. Even when it has been under fire within the UN Human Rights Council, its allies who are swayed by economic and political influence block any moves to censure.
Herein lies the difficulty for Hong Kongers trying to have a dialogue with CCP over issues such as ‘democracy’ or ‘freedom’ as it relates to the SAR. While HK citizens largely ascribe to Western ideological values and notions enshrined in its common law legal system, its motherland represented by the CCP and central China government has essentially thrown out the idea of a ‘common prayer book’ in favour of its own manufactured cult. In any debate on human rights matters CCP supporters or pro-Beijing Chinese government officials and pro-Democracy supporters like those in HK simply talk past one another.
The way that people and society define and view human rights impacts how they implement UN treaties. In HK the Joint Declaration and UN treaties are not being upheld.
A fine example of this miscommunication can be seen in public comments made by Chief Executive Carrie Lam in August 2019. When asked if her government would make any concessions to the protesters' five demands, she remarked that the economy and daily life were important to HK, and that protesters "have no stake" in society. Rather than offer any political concessions, she claimed it was better to do "what is right for Hong Kong". Clearly her priorities, and those of her government, are very different from the wishes of those who have been protesting in the SAR since June 2019. Under her watch she has allowed central government to undermine governance and law in HK.
An examination of human rights policy and practice inside the SAR goes beyond the scope of this piece, however, it is enough to say that things are not as good as they should be. The ICCPR which is specifically mentioned as a benchmark in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration is being undermined rather than upheld and ratified by mainland Chinese authorities. There are many aspects of HK legislation that are flawed in relation to the ICCPR. During a 5-yearly Universal Periodic Review session in March 2019, Hong Kong’s No 2 official Matthew Cheung Kin-chung told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, that the “one country, two systems” principle was successfully implemented. It was later claimed that officials from mainland China and HK had lied about the city’s high degree of autonomy being intact. Pro-democracy activists asserted that local freedoms protected under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration were being eroded [see links below].
Clearly, government lies are intolerable, as are misrepresentations. Repression and denial of fundamental human rights in HK is deplorable since it proudly aspires to be "Asia's world city". The CCP must be called upon to unequivocally define and uphold the inalienable rights of all its citizens. The government of HK must act to strengthen human rights provisions and the mechanisms in place meant to address any failings. In the current HK context this concerns all citizens, but especially young people, minorities, protesters, public servants, candidates for election, voters, teachers, migrant workers and employees, and those who are incarcerated or before the police or judiciary.
The Governments of China and Hong Kong must uphold the Joint Declaration.
For more reading on the Sino-British Joint Declaration follow these links:
For more about the plight of young people in Hong Kong follow this link:
For more on humanitarian failings in HK:
For text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: