Children under the age of 14 account for 22.89 percent of the total population of China, according to the Fifth National Population Census, which was conducted last December.
However, after a careful study of front page newspaper stories covering International Children’s Day (June 1), researchers from China Children’s Express Center in Beijing are disappointed to find few news stories ever quote a child.
“We have very little chance to hear children’s voices, even on Children’s Day, from the major news media,” said Bu Wei, associate professor and director of the Media and Youth Development Research Center of the Journalism Research Institute under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
“When we do hear their voices, what comes out of their mouths is often words that parents and teachers have prepared for them,” said Zheng Xinrong, professor and deputy director of the Education Department at Beijing Normal University.
Children are also aware of the mass media’s neglect of their opinions. “You adults have created a lot of children’s films and TV programs, but many of us feel that the children in the films and TV programs look more like clay figurines than real children,” said Guo Zhong, 13 and a first-grader at the Beijing No. 92 Middle School, at a recent children’s forum, organized by China Children Express Center and co-founded by UNICEF, China Youth Computer Information Service Network and Media and Youth Development Research Center.
“We feel those programs are filled with a lot of falsehood about us children,” Guo said. “Why couldn’t they consult us?”
Bu Wei said children are limited not only by not having their voices heard in the media but also in making decisions over matters that concern their lives.
During the forum, the young teenage delegates pointed out that it is adults who vote on the prizes for children’s literature and children’s TV programs.
And, in schools, it is teachers who decide upon students’ activities. “We students have little say in deciding who will be the candidates for the Best Students’ award at the municipal level,” said Sun Weisi, a 12-year-old six-grader from the Beijing Hepingli No. 9 Primary School, in her speech during the forum.
Even within families, parents seldom solicit children’s opinions on their academic studies and extracurricular activities, and on who the children should be friends with or what they should buy.
“I am already tired of adults who ask our suggestions but then veto them without telling us why,” said Miao Hanwen, 11 and a fifth-grader from the Beijing Jianhua Experimental School.
To Bu and Zheng, it is wrong not to listen to children. “It’s the children’s right to participate in social activities and express themselves through the media,” Bu said.
She quoted article 12 of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child (under the age of 18), which stipulates that “States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.”
“For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.”
There have been efforts to correct this wrong. Since its founding last year, the China Children Express Centre has conducted five training classes for more than 200 children between the ages eight and 18 and for some 40 journalists.
While children are learning the basics of writing their own stories and opinions without interference from adults, journalists are learning from the children and becoming aware of the importance of children’s opinions.
Meanwhile, Zheng and Bu have also started a program encouraging university students to interview rural children, to share their opinions on a wide range of issues with their urban peers and adults as well.
Concentrated in urban centers, the media is most neglectful of the children in underdeveloped rural areas, Zheng Xinrong said.
“The aim of our project is to get media attention on those rural children and help them exercise their right to media participation,” she said.
(China Daily 06/07/2001)