Watchdog probes troubled youth homes

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 October, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 October, 2000, 12:00am

Human rights activists will soon complete a study into conditions in juvenile homes. The research was triggered by a suicide pact and a series of escapes.

The study by Human Rights Monitor, which assesses conditions in the territory's seven homes, is thought to be the first independent review of its kind carried out by a non-governmental organisation.

The organisation's director, Law Yuk-kai, said the study started last October and was expected to be completed by next month.

The study is looking at facilities, management, discipline, rehabilitation and health care in the seven correctional and residential homes run by the Social Welfare Department.

Mr Law said one of the major purposes was to check that the Government was following United Nations recommendations on the protection of juveniles and the treatment of prisoners.

He said the issue had become a concern after a number of incidents in correctional homes over the years.

'As a human rights watchdog, it is also our duty to monitor whether our Government has respected the rights of different groups of people in the community, especially those neglected by most people,' he said.

In January, two boys, aged 15 and 16, tried to hang themselves at O Pui Shan Boys' Home, Lai Chi Kok, after leaving a note denying they had attacked two other inmates. Two months later, teenage inmate Leung Ho-yin, 16, plunged to his death from a cliff after escaping from the Cape Collinson Correctional Institution, run by the Correctional Services Department.

In April 1997, 14-year-old illegal immigrant Tseung Siu-ming hanged himself after being kept in isolation for six days at the Pui Yin Juvenile Home in Kowloon City.

Two boys, 11 and 13, escaped from Begonia Road Boys' Home in Shekkipmei last month and were recaptured. A similar escape occurred in July when another pair fled from Pui Chi Boys' Home in King's Road, Quarry Bay.

Mr Law said the study was undertaken by a team of volunteers who had collected data from the Social Welfare Department and visited the homes. But he said it was difficult to forecast the progress of their work because the volunteers could not conduct the study full-time.

The director said he would seek a meeting to discuss the findings with the Government. A spokesman for the department could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Legislators, including Emily Lau Wai-hing of The Frontier, have called on the Government to review its correctional homes instead of relying on a human rights group to do the work.

'I am a bit worried whether the watchdog has the resources to complete a full report,' she said.

'I do not want to jump to the conclusion there must be underlying problems in the homes. 'But after all these incidents, the Government should take the initiative to conduct a comprehensive review.

'During my term of office in Legco since 1991 I have never seen the Government submit to us a full review on juvenile homes. So I wonder whether they have actually taken steps to assess and identify the problems.'

Her colleague, Cyd Ho Sau-lan, accused the Government of reacting too slowly: 'The administration is always slower than the non-governmental organisations and watchdogs on almost everything,' she said.