Advertisements promoting goods for children multiplied last week before Children's Day last Saturday. Newspapers and televisions were saturated with commercials boasting gifts, nutrition, reading materials, toys, clothing and training classes.
Every year, Children's Day renders a golden opportunity for advertising. Children represent a huge market in China. An investigation conducted last year in five major cities indicated that an average 897 yuan (US$110) was spent on one child monthly, which makes for an annual market of 48 billion yuan (US$5.9 billion) in those five cities alone.
Chinese parents never hesitate to lavish their earnings on their children. Besides spending on nutritious food and clothing, parents are investing more and more in their children's education. The absolute amount spent on children varies between urban and rural families, but in both demographics health and education took top priority in family expenses.
Healthy development of this market will definitely contribute to the growth of the national economy, which will heavily depend on domestic spending this year while investment and exports, the other engines propelling gross domestic product (GDP) growth, are not likely to generate much power, given the current state of the global economy.
However, some phenomena in the urban market of children's spending are worrying.
Parents' desire to catch up with Jones in pampering their kids has led to a tendency in children to pursue "high grade" material comforts. They ask for brand-name clothes and shoes, expensive stationery, fancy bicycles, MP3 players and the latest video games without giving a thought to their parents' ability to pay.
Manufacturers and shops are only too happy about this trend. They keep churning out novel products to tantalize kids and their parents. This is not to blame, but some of these products are hazardous to children's health, both physically and mentally.
Last week, the China Consumers' Association revealed the results of a sample examination of color sticks used for painting. The examination found that some color sticks contained excessive amounts of heavy metals, such as arsenic, lead and mercury, which are hazardous at high levels.
Tonics alleged to be able to strengthen children's physique and mental power are so numerous that parents cannot remember which brands the Consumers' Association has declared acceptable and which are useless and even contain hazardous elements. More perilous are publications and video games containing unhealthy content. Some teach children how to make money by unethical means, and some even tout violence and obscenity.
It is not wrong for factories and shops to take advantage of the vast market of children's goods. But they should also have a sense of responsibility when providing goods to kids. Needless to say, products that may harm children's health must be forbidden. More important, manufacturers of such goods should be aware that they are committing a crime when they obtain fat profits from selling goods that pollute children's souls.
Living in a market economy does not mean that we can ignore our moral responsibility, especially our duty to the young generation.
(China Daily June 11, 2002)