Po Yan Cheng, 20, has for many years been an active member in child-led organisation Kids' Dream. She served as the Co-Chair of the Young Participants Program of the 2009 International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (ISPCAN) Asia-Pacific Regional Conference, and is currently studying social policy and administration full-time in Hong Kong.
Participation is crucial for children's rights in Hong Kong. Here, local culture and tradition often dictate that children do not deserve much attention, and many people believe that children are already so privileged that they do not need more rights. But in reality, we have the world's widest gap between rich and poor, and the many deprived children in our city have been made invisible.
Young people also need to realise the importance of children's rights. Many children in Hong Kong don't think that they should or need to participate in society. We must work to convince them why it is important to participate and teach them how to do so, or else we will end up with a generation of adults who are not concerned about making our society a good place to live.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child provides an important framework for advancing children's rights. The Convention has very clear principles and guidelines for implementation. For example, the best interests principle reminds us that whenever children are involved, we must always think of how our actions would affect them.
My proudest moment in children's rights was helping to prepare Kids' Dream's shadow report to the CRC. There are unfortunately not very many countries where children are able to come together and share their own views on children's rights with the government and the Committee on the Rights of the Child, but we were able to submit a report and even send two of our members to Geneva. I think this is a very important recognition of how crucial children's voices are to realising the goals of the Convention.
I really admire the work of children's rights advocates in China. Children's rights are a very sensitive matter in China, and the Save the Children office there is one of very few international NGOs with a presence. Last year, they helped to organise a conference bringing children together from many of the provinces to talk about children's rights, and have since advocated very strongly for children's voices to be incorporated into China's CRC shadow report.
If I could give children's rights advocates one piece of advice, it would be to always treasure young people's involvement in their planning and activities. Most people think that children have little to contribute, but in the end, it is the process of getting children involved that is important and not the end result. Young people and adults both stand to gain a lot from cooperation – adults will find new perspectives valuable, and children will have the chance to develop and learn to contribute their opinions in a meaningful way.
If I weren't working in children's rights, I would be bored! And I'd probably be boring, too.
The best thing about my job is that it has taught me that young people can change the world. In schools and many adult-led organisations, people are not very supportive of children. But at Kids' Dream, we have a mutual understanding as young people that we can and need to take the initiative. I learned very quickly that if you have an idea, you can make it happen!
The hardest thing about my job is finding the time to do it. Being a student in Hong Kong makes me very busy, and the demands of Kids' Dream's work are not always child-friendly. There is a very high standard for work in Hong Kong if it is going to be taken seriously, and this can be very stressful for young people. I think this is a problem with the system – children will do what children do, and the point of participation should be to recognise what they have done and not to expect greatness in all aspects of their work.
One day, I hope to be the Children's Commissioner for Hong Kong. We have been fighting for a Children's Commissioner for a number of years, and I hope that the government will soon agree that it is necessary for children's rights in Hong Kong. Personally, I think being Children's Commissioner would give me a chance to feel like I was genuinely contributing to the world and let me turn all of my thoughts and experiences with children's rights into action.
In one word, children's rights to me are universal. Children's rights are truly international, and they should not and do not have boundaries. Because there are children in every country and we all share the same world, children's rights are everyone's business.