Our views towards the 2022 Policy Address

Our views towards the 2022 Policy Address

Our views towards the 2022 Policy Address 800 528 Hugill & Ip
Reading Time: 7 minutes
Preamble

Our beloved city has suffered greatly in the past three years. It has been painful and difficult for adults, not to mention our children who are experiencing all of these challenges during their crucial developmental years. We need a Government committed to looking at these challenges from the perspective of children and ready to take the lead to not only rebuild but build a better, child friendly city by collaborating with our knowledgeable and multi-disciplinary child welfare community and to hearing from children and youth directly. Below we provide our recommendations to the HKSAR Government for the 2022 Policy Address to achieve these goals.

Recommendation 1: Form an expert-led special task force to look into the damage caused to children and youth since social unrest and the pandemic

As experts in children’s protection, rights and welfare, we have witnessed the harm that has been done to children and youth in the past few years. This damage will have long term impacts but it has also illustrated the flaws in our current systems. If these issues are not addressed properly, the social cost could be very high. Conversely, this can and should be used as an opportunity to review and invest in improvements to our systems. We urged the Government to form an expert-led special task force to look into two areas: 1). Damages caused to children and youth since social unrest in 2019; and 2). Damages caused to children and youth since the pandemic hits Hong Kong.
Arrest, prosecution and detention in various ways have scarred the lives of 1,754 children under the age 18 (police figures) since social unrest in 2019. These young people have difficulty in returning to normal school education and social life, and have challenges in expressing and sharing their feelings and emotions with others. Many other children were traumatized by their constant exposure to conflict and insecurity in the society around them. The Government needs to find ways and allocate budget to help these children and youth to receive rehabilitative and human treatment to prepare for and support their smooth return to society by collaborating with knowledgeable experts, professional groups and NGOs. Failing to reconcile and rehabilitate these children would be a costly and unconscionable waste of Hong Kong’s cherished future generation.

Lockdowns, school closures, virtual learning, disruption of social connections, lack of play space and activities, to name but a few, have all resulted in a lost generation of delayed physical and mental development, such as motor skill, self-care ability, social skill, academic ability. It is particularly challenging for children with special needs and children in poverty to overcome this catastrophe. We need the Government to bring together various government departments, multi-disciplined professionals and academics to discuss and address the issue properly before it is too late. The task force should be chaired by a Special Rapporteur with expertise in child welfare. The focus should not be politics or narrow interests, but the best interests of our children.

Recommendation 2: Conduct a comprehensive review of Hong Kong’s child protection laws

The Hong Kong community roared over the tragic deaths and serious injuries of many young children in the recent years who suffered from the torturous, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment inflicted by their parents or people they trusted. These incidents also raise a big question why our child protection system has failed these vulnerable children.

Incidents

  • Dec 2017
    Woman in Hong Kong who killed and dismembered her 12-year-old daughter while in a drug-induced state sent to hospital indefinitely by court (12/06/2020).
  • Jan 2018
    A couple was found guilty of murdering (13/04/2021) their five-year-old girl who was tortured and abused to death with over 130 old and new wounds found on her body.
  • June 2019
    A couple was jailed (17/11/2021) for abusing a 22-month-old baby girl who weighed just 8kg and had 70 injuries over her body when she died. The couple had tied her with a metal dog leash when they went out for a meal.
  • Since Dec 2021
    34 childcare workers were arrested for inflicting abuse to at least 40 young children sheltered at the residential home operated by Hong Kong Society for the Protection of Children
  • 04/06/2022
    A 14-month-old baby girl was found dead with multiple crescent-shaped marks on her neck in a Yuen Long village house. Both parents were arrested with murder.

There has been a steady chorus of voices across all sectors in the past decades calling for real and comprehensive reform of our child protection laws. The Government should wait no more to conduct a comprehensive review of the child protection laws. We encourage the government to begin with public consultation on the “Protection of Children Legislation (Amendments) Bill” put forward to the government in 2020 to codify the “Best Interests of the Child” principle in law. The priorities in this bill were drafted jointly by a cross-section of the child welfare and protection sector, and reflects the recommendations of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child for the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

We strongly recommend that the Government announce its intention to implement the following efforts and reforms:

  1. Start the legislative process to prohibit corporal punishment in all settings;
  2. Quicken the steps and strengthen resources on setting up a Mandatory Reporting System of Suspected Child Abuse;
  3. Put the new offence “failure to protect a child or vulnerable person where the child’s or vulnerable person’s death or serious harm results from an unlawful act or neglect” introduced by the Law Reform Commission into practice at the soonest possible;
  4. Set up a Child Fatality/Serious Injury Inquiry System for each individual case of a child’s unnatural death/serious injury;
  5. Ban forced marriage in Hong Kong and trafficking for forced marriage;
  6. Reform care and protection proceedings to protect the best interests of children most in need of care;
  7. Reform the juvenile justice system which has not been touched on since the review of the minimum age of criminal responsibility in 2003; and
  8. Reserve a reasonable budget on improving the child protection system in each fiscal year.
Recommendation 3: Strengthen the Commission on Children as an independent statutory body

The Commission on Children has been operated in Hong Kong for more than four years as an advisory body since June 2018. Although we are grateful for the leadership of the Chief Executive in his former role as Chair, the Commission has not been able to function with sufficient speed and force due to its structure and absence of clear statutory powers. It has not yet served its intended function or given a voice to our children in Government. We recall the encouragement to the Labour and Welfare Bureau in the 2021 Policy Address, highlighting the intended role of the Commissioner of Children in assisting in child protection (at paragraph 36). This proposal is strongly welcomed by the community and will be greatly facilitated by dedicating further resources to an independent commission.
We strongly urge the Government to have regard to the minimum international standards1,2 and draw reference from experiences of the 79 countries and over 200 jurisdictions that have set up independent human rights institutions for children in the redesign of the Commission on Children in Hong Kong as an independent and statutory body. The statutory Commission on Children needs to be independent with its own office, staff team, budget allocated, developed child friendly channels to communicate and hear the voice of children clearly and represent them whenever necessary. The Commission should also have the power to consider individual complaints and carry out investigations, and have a duty to seek to ensure that children have effective remedies for any breaches of their rights. In this way, the best interests of 1.1 million children under the age of 18 in Hong Kong could really be well safeguarded.

Recommendation 4: Provide play space and rejuvenate accessible playgrounds for children

The current state of Hong Kong’s public playgrounds is an outrage and embarrassment to Hong Kong’s reputation. The neglect of these crucial spaces is a waste of valuable public space but also of essential resources for the development of children. Children have continuously expressed their frustrations in the lack of play space, and lack of age appropriate and accessible playgrounds in our city. Lack of play will directly weaken children’s curiosity and creativity, socialization, physical abilities, problem solving and communication skills as a consequence.
We urge the Chief Executive to instruct relevant bureaus and departments to develop a long-term plan to create and maintain barrier free, spacious, innovative, artistic, creative and flexible play space for children and the general public, as well as age appropriate and accessible playgrounds for children of different abilities.
The Tuen Mun Park opened in 2018 which provides diversified inclusive play facilities for children of different ages and abilities to play together has been warmly welcomed by the Hong Kong public. However, only one inclusive public park in Hong Kong is far from enough. Besides, budget to keep good maintenance of the park to ensure it is safe and attractive is key. The Government must invest more resources and have active collaboration with play specialists and engagement of children to build inclusive play spaces of large, medium and small sizes at various neighborhoods for children at the earliest.
In the 2019 Policy Address, we learnt that the Government had planned to modify more than 170 public play spaces in our city in five years. We wish to know the progress and the above-mentioned principles must be applied in rejuvenating such public play spaces.

Recommendation 5: Create appropriate channels for children to speak up their mind

There are many issues in Hong Kong that are closely related to children, yet they are seldom appropriately involved and consulted with child friendly means. As a result, our Government and our community seldom hear the voice of children. Engaging children to express their views on matters related to them not only in full compliance with article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it also helps to foster our next generation with a sense of belonging in this city.
We urge the Government to devise special consultation programmes, channels and imaginative communication strategies to consult and communicate with children. And it should begin with those bureaus and departments that are directly related to children. Our Committee commissioned Professor Anne Scully-Johnson, Adjunct Associate Professor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Faculty of Law to conduct The Baseline Study on the Implementation of UNCRC Article 12 ‘Children’s Right to be Heard’ in Hong Kong3 two years ago. 31 government bureau, departments, and statutory bodies responded to the study. The study reveals a limited implementation of children’s right to be heard in local context, in terms of its prominence, forms and quality of participation. The study has made 92 recommendations for the Administration, different sectors and stakeholders to mainstreaming and advancing child participation to hear the voice of children clearly. We hope when we conduct the Baseline Study again in five years or ten years of time, we could proudly see the improvement of child participation in the government structure.

Concluding remarks

The new HKSAR Government uses the slogan: “Your views will drive us to better serve citizens and the development of Hong Kong” across channels when launching its public consultation on the 2022 Policy Address. We invite the Government to reach out directly to children and young people and gauge their views on the future blueprint of Hong Kong. We always call children our future, but they are also the present. Engaging the public is key for any public policy and it must begin with children. We sincerely wish the new Government could reach out to children and young people more often, listen and interact genuinely with them. And as child rights advocates, we promise to continue to share our views, represent the interests of children in Hong Kong, and share their views as we understand them.

 


Billy Wong, Hong Kong Committee on Children’s Rights

 

The Shield of Justice campaign will run until December 2022 in support of Hong Kong Committee on Children’s Rights
Let’s join hands to create a violence-free and child friendly environment!
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