Former Danish PM: China leads way in protecting children's rights

Nov. 30, 2017 17:21:00

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Helle Thorning-Schmidt joined in a study group in a remote primary school of Yunnan. Photo provided by Save the Children

By Liu Wei

A former Danish Prime Minister has said that China is leading the way in safeguarding children's rights and is willing to cooperate with child protection organizations to inspire other developing countries.

"China has made tremendous progress in lifting millions of children out of poverty and getting them into education," said Helle Thorning-Schmidt, now CEO of Save the Children, adding that China's cooperation with child protection organizations can inspire other developing countries.

Thorning-Schmidt cited the example of how China's efforts to reduce the under-five mortality rate have helped the world meet its millennium target in a recent interview with Xinhua.

"The next step is to live up to the sustainable development goals(SDGs). But we all know we can't do this unless China is very much part of it,"  Thorning-Schmidt said.

Save the Children, an international organization widely recognized as one of the chief protectors and defenders of children in crisis, has been working in China for over 30 years and has initiated programs to reach about half a million children in 12 regions of China.

Thorning-Schmidt used to frequent Beijing for state visits as a politician. In January 2016, she became the woman in charge of the organization and travelled to new places and remote, poor areas.

This March, she went to a village in Yunnan Province where 65 percent of children have been "left behind" by parents who have migrated to cities for work.

"I was able to see and talk with children and their grandparents. I also saw children's smiling faces and realized how they develop and learn and get ready to learn when they reach the age for formal schooling,"  said Thorning-Schmidt.

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Helle Thorning-Schmidt attended one of the classes in a local primary school of Yunnan. Photo provided by Save the Children

In 2016, Save the Children was running early childhood development centers in 24 rural communities in Yunnan without an operational kindergarten. It worked with local counties to develop activity curricula and train parent volunteers to provide services for children aged 3 to 6 years old.

Thorning-Schmidt said the way the organization works is to inspire governments to use their technical expertise and to work with them to create change.

She said the Chinese government is open to discussing issues and problems concerning children and to finding solutions by getting support from NGOs.

The former prime minister considers her political career a huge advantage when it comes to cooperation between an NGO and a government. She said her PM experience taught her a lot about China and how to partner with the country.

During her two-day visit to China starting from Tuesday, she had talks with officials of China's Ministry of Civil Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to build a deepened cooperative relationship.

Save the Children cooperates with the Ministry of Civil Affairs to create a child protection system.

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Helle held talk with Gu Zhaoxi, the Deputy Minister of China's Ministry of Civil Affairs. Photo by Wang Jing from China Daily

"We have strong principles and practical handouts. The Chinese government could draw on our expertise and build their own child protection system, which will be of great help for the 9 million children who are left behind by their parents,"  said Thorning-Schmidt.

One of the great successes of the millennium development goals has been a big rise in getting children in the developing world into school. Enrollment rates of up to 90 percent have been recorded.

"Can we do the same for the SDGs?" asked Thorning-Schmidt. "These  goals are harder to achieve. If you want to alleviate poverty, you have to realize the reason why many children are out of school, and often you have to tackle inequality issues."

The CEO said China has set a good model in protecting girls' rights and investing in international development.

"This should be a great inspiration for other countries," she said.

Since the launching of the Belt and Road Initiative in 2015, China has provided overseas development assistance for other developing countries. Last month, Chinese-funded educational supplies were distributed to 86,000 Syrian refugee students in Lebanon.

Thorning-Schmidt said such assistance allows governments to help the most vulnerable people in the world while serving their own people by helping to create a more secure and stable world.

"Our core work in China is to help these marginalized children. It takes a little bit of courage for every government to look at their own marginalized children, and I feel the courage is in the Chinese system right now and we want to encourage that,"  said Thorning-Schmidt. 

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