Groups hold barefoot rally to highlight student suicide problem

October 23, 2017 16:16
During a rally Sunday, protesters hold a banner marking the dates of student suicide cases in Hong Kong in the past two years. Photo: Civil Alliance for Student Suicide Prevention

More than 100 people took part in a barefoot march on Sunday in Hong Kong, calling on the government to pay more attention to the issue of student suicides. 

The rally, led by members from two concern groups -- the Civil Alliance for Student Suicide Prevention, and Parents United of Hong Kong -- saw the participants walk from the Legislative Council to the Chief Executive's Office without any footwear.

During the event, protesters demanded that Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor take the youth suicide problem seriously and carry out changes in the education system, Apple Daily reports.

The march came amid mounting concerns among parents, teachers and social workers after Hong Kong witnessed 74 student suicides in the city between August 2015 and October 12 this year.

During the rally Sunday, protestors took off their shoes and placed them on a black banner on the floor, with all 74 suicide dates marked out on the banner in order to remind the public of the tragic incidents.

Each pair of shoes represents one forgotten child, the Civil Alliance said. By visualizing the suicide cases in such a way, the group said it hoped to raise awareness in society about the problem.

After the demonstration was over, the protestors all bowed down in silence as the dates of the students' suicides were recited.

However, neither Carrie Lam nor any staff from the Office of the Chief Executive met with the groups to receive their letter.

Both the organizations backed Legislator Shiu Ka-chun's idea that the government should launch a summit to handle student suicide problems, news website reports.

The idea was rejected by Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Law Chi-kwong, with the official arguing that a high-profile summit would only "spread the infectious idea of suicide".

The concern groups responded by stating that the summit would not tackle each suicide case individually, but will only discuss ways to improve the entire system as a whole.

The organizations will meet with the Education Secretary Kevin Yeung Yun-hung soon to discuss the topic.

They have also arranged to meet the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, and Secretary for Home Affairs.

A teacher surnamed Yam said he joined Sunday's protest because he believes the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education examination is causing too much stress for students.

Yam told Apple Daily that each time a student commits suicide, he feels as if he himself had been the executioner as he had been teaching them and giving them homework.

A parent at the protest, a woman surnamed Wong, said that her daughter had been forced to start writing at the young age of two. She pointed out that the child has come under great stress and had felt unhappy because she could not write the characters properly.

As the Hong Kong education system puts too much stress on results, many schools had pushed their students too hard and made matters worse.

A spokesperson from the Civil Alliance, Cheung Sau-yin, called on the government to establish an inter-departmental committee to solve the problems of mandatory social workers at schools.

If that is done, many problems can be looked into with more effective communication, Cheung said.

Tong Chung-yee, a spokesperson for Parents United, noted that authorities had started a program where schools were given HK$200,000 funding for promoting mental health, under the “Joyful at School" initiative.

However, she cited official statistics as showing that only 40 percent of the schools had been given the green light for the program.

Given this situation, Tong urged the government to allow more schools to benefit from the scheme.

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