Experts are calling for drastic measures to reduce the number of accidents which kill some 20,000 children in China every year.
Paediatricians warn that the world will suffer if the future of its children is not better protected.
“Injuries from traffic accidents, drowning, poisoning, maltreatment, suicide, violence and murder, to name but a few, have become the major killers of children aged between 0-14,” said Ding Zongyi from the Beijing Research Institute of Paediatrics.
In China the picture is mixed. The country has always sought a healthy environment for bringing up its children.
In September, 1991, the National People’s Congress brought in the Law on the Protection of Minors.
In December that year, the NPC ratified the UN Covenant on Children’s Rights adopted by the UN General Assembly on November 20, 1989.
People’s knowledge of how to provide a safe and healthy life for their children has improved with the burgeoning economy, which has raised living standards.
But paediatricians like Ding say children need much more than material comforts. Without a safe environment, such things are meaningless, they say.
“Regrettably, many people do not care about safety, or don’t know how to deal with the problem,” said Ding.
Their ignorance has exacerbated the situation, he said.
Statistics from the China Children and Teenagers’ Fund (CCTF) under the All-China Women’s Federation support Ding’s claim.
Every year 20,000 children die and 400,000-500,000 are injured in accidents. According to the CCTF, more than 10 percent of students have encountered campus violence.
All to often, injuries to children occur through blind ignorance. In some remote areas of the country, administration of the antibiotic gentamycin has caused many children to go deaf, Guo Xiao from the CCTF said.
Not even the worldwide paediatric circle had given enough attention to child safety until 1989 when the first international conference on accidental injuries among children was held in Stockholm, Sweden.
“In China, child safety is still not receiving due attention,” said Ding. “After a decade of recognizing the problem, it remains only part of the emergency chapter in paediatric textbooks.”
“There is no nationwide monitoring system to track down accidental injuries to children. The system is necessary for researchers to conduct the relevant research and take proper measures to prevent such injuries,” said Ding.
Lead, for instance, is present in many materials, such as exhaust fumes and poor quality paint. It can cause irreparable damage to the placenta and nerves and affect children’s growth.
Examining children for lead levels has been standard practice in some countries for years, Ding said, but China has no regular examinations.
Raising awareness is a solution to the problem, said Wu Zhenying, vice-director of the CCTF’s fund-raising department.
To do this, the CCTF is carrying out a safe and healthy growth program for children, calling on society to pay more attention to youngsters’ development.
It will try to establish a monitoring system and submit reports to health departments so they can take proper action.
It plans to ally relevant departments to conduct more research on children’s living conditions and provide financial aid to 10 research projects on juvenile development.
It will also help set up 100 training centers across the country to teach children about health and safety.
“Children’s knowledge of self-protection is very poor, but they should not be blamed,” said Wang Yang, a lawyer from the Beijing Legal and Psychological Consultation Center for Teenagers. “It stems from the poor awareness of their parents and teachers,” she added, saying there were no self-protection classes on the school curriculum in China.
Wang is a veteran social worker who trains children in survival and self-protection.
“Children receive little training or instruction on protecting themselves from injuries,” she said.
Inadequate sex education means some girls and boys cannot distinguish between love and sexual harassment, Wang said.
In China, although sex is no longer taboo, people are generally conservative in talking about it and many parents do not know how to educate their children about sex.
“People are beginning to attach importance to this issue, but there are not enough social organizations to do the work,” Wang said.
For those non-governmental organizations that have started this work, such as the Beijing Legal and Psychological Consultant Center for Teenagers, the lack of financial support has been a big obstacle, she said.
(China Daily 12/04/2000)