Cartoons and stories are being used to change under-fives' attitudes to bribery, reports Yojana Sharma
Children as young as four and five are to be taught that accepting bribes is wrong as part of an anti-corruption campaign which aims to promote a stronger sense of ethical behaviour designed to carry through to adulthood.
The move by Hong Kong's powerful anti-corruption agency, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), which has been visiting schools and has contracted a local cartoonist to create a character that will appeal to the very young, is a response to feelings among the business community in Hong Kong that ethical standards are deteriorating.
A comic to be produced three times a year will include stories about the correct way to act when faced with a dilemma over giving or accepting bribes.
The ICAC has been liaising with primary and secondary schools since its inception in 1974, but this is the first time they will be promoting the anti-corruption theme in pre-school children.
The feeling in business circles is that Hong Kong prospered as a place of commerce because of its relatively corruption-free environment compared to many countries in Asia, and in particular compared to China. Pessimists say that if corruption takes root in Hong Kong as it has in China, it could sound the death knell of the colony as a regional hub for international business after the handover to Chinese rule in 1997.
A recent ICAC survey conducted by Dr Alan Tse, of Hong Kong's Chinese University, showed that almost 78 per cent of business managers thought standards among the young were dropping, and 83 per cent of working people aged 18-35 agreed.
Just 23 per cent of the employees regarded accepting a bribe as unethical compared to 37 per cent of business managers. A majority of both groups - two-thirds of business managers and three-quarters of the workers - said instruction on ethical behaviour in schools was insufficient to enable them to make the right decision when faced with a moral dilemma, and 41 per cent of working people aged 18-35 rated themselves as having low standards of integrity.
Vincent Cheng, a member of Hong Kong governor Chris Patten's appointed advisory body, the Executive Council, said that the strengthening of ties with China in the run-up to the 1997 handover was putting pressure on business behaviour, particularly among the young.
"Anti-corruption sentiment is perhaps stronger among Hong Kong's older generation, who remember how badly the territory suffered from corruption before the creation of the ICAC," he said at a conference last month to promote ethical behaviour among the young.
The conference organised by the ICAC concluded that the pursuit of short-term gain, the desire to make a killing in business before 1997, inadequate instruction in schools on ethical behaviour, and parents' failure to give their children moral guidance, was leading to a decline in standards of ethical behaviour.