Third district Labour Party candidate Ray Abela on Wednesday distributed virtual reality headsets to a primary school in his district, just days after the Children's Commissioner warned against using children in electoral campaigns.
Abela, who owns technology-related business TCTC, visited children at a Żejtun primary school on Wednesday, where he handed out virtual reality headsets to students.
The headsets are all emblazoned with his name, personal website and the detail that he is a candidate on the first and third electoral districts.
Abela posted multiple photos of the stunt to his Facebook page, posing with children holding and wearing the headsets. It was not clear whether he had parents' permission to publish photos of the children.
The General Elections Act specifically forbids the exchange of goods, food or favours in exchange for votes, listing it as a “corrupt practice”.
While schoolchildren are not able to vote, the generous gift might go a long way in influencing voting adults in the children’s lives.
While standalone VR gaming headsets can run into hundreds of euros, the brand of headset distributed by Abela can be bought from online China-based retailers for around €35.
Warning by children's commissioner
Asked about the incident, Children’s Commissioner Antoinette Vassallo said that “it is not right to take advantage of children” during political campaigns.
“It depends on how they’re portrayed, but care should be taken not to expose children so publicly.”
“Pictures of children should always be taken with full permission and awareness of their parents,” she said.
“Incidents like this could expose children to bullying, particularly where there are different political beliefs.”
“I believe children should not be used so publicly, especially with their school uniforms.”
In an interview with Times of Malta, Vassallo stressed how children should be allowed to be children, away from political campaigns.
This is not the first time a candidate has gotten into hot water over including children during their campaign activities.
Last October Rosianne Cutajar was reported to the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life after handing out Halloween sweets to children with her name on them.