BEIJING — Much has been said in recent days about an incident in the Bund, Shanghai's trendy waterfront district, where on a particularly hot day, several minors were seen wearing heavy coats for an ad shoot.

Critics questioned why the parents of these pint-sized models would agree to let their kids roast in the heat like that. But parents said the public should mind its own business: What parents decide to do with their kids is their concern, it's "a private affair."

There's also a commonly held belief that children essentially belong to their parents, and that parents are therefore entitled to do as they choose. But is that really true?

A lot of Chinese people certainly think so. They believe that since parents give birth to and raise their children, they thus have full control over them, even in matters such as the child's career and marriage choices. But that doesn't mean that their offspring belong to the parents. Children aren't possessions. They aren't private property.

From a biological point of view, parents are providers of their children's genes. Legally speaking, they have the custody and guardianship during a child's minor stage. And emotionally, they are the protectors of children, especially young children. Even so, children are independent individuals and by no means the possession of anyone, including their parents.

Children aren't possessions. They aren't private property.

This is consistent with the spirit of the UN's Convention on the Rights of the Child, which advocates the human rights of the child as an independent and complete individual entitled to the rights and obligations appropriate to his or her age and development stage.

Looked at from this basis, how parents treat children isn't, therefore, just a personal matter. That's not so say every decision a parent makes should be open to public scrutiny. Parents should, of course, have full discretion to decide what kind of parenting style they want to adopt, or how their children should dress, for example. But when it comes to the child's basic rights, there are public-sphere standards to which parents must adhere.

Children in Haikou, Hunan Province — Photo: iamsheep

In the case of the Bund controversy, if the children volunteered to shoot the ads and therefore wear the heavy coats, despite the heat, the public indeed has nothing to say about it. But what the parents in question should have said, therefore, is that, "My child wanted to do this." Instead they used the "it's a private affair" argument, which is an extension of the idea that, "The child is mine; I do as I wish."

That same mentality is at play in countless cases where children's rights are infringed or the child is even physically abused. Not too long ago a video surfaced of a mother kicking her daughter (also a child model) during a photo shoot. Naturally, this outraged the public and provoked discussion about professional norms for junior models.

There have also been cases where a child was confined to a cage, or a boy was supposedly missing but was instead being used as a kind of pawn in a power struggle between his parents. All of these stories stem, in part, from this subconscious idea in Chinese culture that children are the property of their parents.

All parents love their children, but their approaches aren't always proper.

In reality, no member of a family is the private possession of any other person in that group. This applies to the relationships between parents and children as well as to spouses. And yet, there are still too many people in our society who don't fully grasp this concept.

It is essential, therefore, to raise awareness, because in too many cases, parents aren't even conscious of the ways in which they might be violating their children's rights. All parents love their children, but their approaches aren't always proper. Proper love means accompanying their children's growth until they leave home. This requires the realization that parents and children are independent and equal respectively.

As Khalil Gibran, the Lebanese-American poet who wrote The Prophet, wrote: "You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you yet they belong not to you."

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