This is a very sad week. Over the past week or so, 3 children have committed suicide one after the other. First, it was a 16 year old boy, then a 13 year old girl, and now, a 15 year old boy. When I grew up, this would be unfathomable. How could we ever let this happen? Children are our most previous jewels. They are our future. When our children start killing themselves, we need to take a good look at ourselves and figure out what has become so wrong. What are we doing so wrong that makes our children not want to live any more?
Who is murdering our children?
When our children start killing themselves, we have no one else to blame but ourselves. We have all contributed to this society’s culture – we make it what it is. When we create an environment where children face so much stress everyday – and we as adults do not spend enough time to educate them on how to deal with stress (or we ourselves being the worst contributors to that stress), we all have blood on our hands.
We are losing our next generation
There have been no less than 70 student suicides since 2013. These are 70 lives we will never get back. We are losing our next generation of artists, bus drivers, musicians, plumbers, doctors, architects, teachers, pilots, scientists, clerks, nurses, footballers, businessmen, lawyers, engineers, cleaners, and university professors. They will never have a chance to contribute to society. These children have taken away their lives because we have made them do so.
We are contributing to a stressful environment for children
There is no right or wrong answer on this. There are many causes of child suicides – but an obvious one is stress, and not knowing how to deal with it. What is the cause of stress? It is inevitably society’s expectations. Growing up in Hong Kong is an extremely stressful experience. As Tuen Mun mother so eloquently puts it, a baby must be pushed at an early age so they could get into a prestigious play group, so he can get into a prestigious pre-school, then primary school, secondary school, university, etc.
The cause is structural
Everyone talks about how competitive education is. But rarely does one talk about the root of the problem. I’m sure there will be many who will disagree with me. But my hypothesis about the causes of children’s stress are these – (1) limited resources and (2) an economy focused on mainly (a) financial services and (b) the property market.
Hong Kong’s economic structure
(1) The distribution of resources control how much money is distributed to publicly funded education and thus the opportunities for our children (especially those who are underprivileged) to receive quality education. (2) The nature of our economy then would then affect the type of opportunities that would be available for our children once they grow up.
(a) Financial services economy
When the economy is mainly focused on financial services, society would essentially focus on training more bankers, fund managers, financial analysts, traders, accountants, actuaries and other types of financiers to meet the market’s needs. Other professionals, such as lawyers and insurers, would also be required to support these financial roles. Due to the huge demand of these professionals, ordinary HongKongers start believing that in order to make a living, they must become one of these. How to become one? You start by getting straight A’s in play group.
(b) The property market
The other limp of the economy is the property market. As Hong Kong retains a low tax regime, much of the government coffers come from land tenders. We all know that HNA Group paid a whooping HK$5.53b for a third piece of land in Kai Tak just this past month. That’s a lot of tax dollars. How does this translate into housing? When the government is selling at HK$13,000/sq. ft. for a piece of land, how much money do our children need to buy a flat in the future when it will cost HK$30,000+/sq. ft.? For many HongKongers, the first thing that comes to mind is be one of those professionals we just discussed about.
How it all comes together
I’m pretty sure you get my point by now, so I won’t elaborate in too much detail. Basically, because of how our economy is structured, coupled with limited resources into public education, we now have parents who are ever so concerned about their children’s futures that they will be push them to hell and back, just for the purpose of hoping that they can make enough money to one day buy their own homes and start a family. Just these two basic things – a roof over their heads, and a family. To hell and back.
In conclusion, because of Hong Kong’s financial services economy and the government’s reliance on land sales for public coffers, coupled with limited resources, many Hong Kong parents are pushing their children increasingly hard to become successful professionals to they could one day afford a home and start a family. If this is where our society is going and nothing changes, you know that we will have a lot more blood on our hands in times to come.