Troubled youth means a troubled future

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 July, 2006, 12:00am

A number of reports in this newspaper this week remind us that, while we apparently thrive on a hectic pace of life in a crowded, polluted city, Hong Kong is far from having all the answers to the stresses of modern society.

The good news was a Japanese survey that showed Hong Kong men live longer than all other men on the planet and the city's women outlive all other women except those in Japan.

The bad news was fourfold: a 31 per cent rise in reported family violence in the first half of this year; a shocking case in which an unemployed father killed himself after attacking his wife and daughter with a knife; a survey that showed a worrying trend in the use of soft drugs by Hong Kong children; and then another worst-case scenario - the death of 13-year-old Chek Wai-yin on Wednesday after taking drugs at a Mongkok disco.

All four examples are a reminder that the young can become the innocent victims of family violence and drug-abuse. It has not been a good week for a city that also happens to have the lowest birth rate among developed countries and, therefore, has good reason to remember the adage that young people represent the hope of the future.

As our report today shows, Wai-yin's death has drawn attention to insidious changes in the under-age drug scene. It has shifted from the notorious rave parties of the past to ubiquitous discos and even into day-to-day life.

The extent of the problem has stretched the resources of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service and its outreach teams that work with young people who need help. One social worker defined youth drug use as a symptom of the pressures facing young people. Factors included lack of attention from parents working long hours for financial reasons; study and work problems; boredom and unhappiness - all aggravated by the use of drugs and peer pressure to use them.

It is a tale of household dysfunction not unlike that associated with family violence. This newspaper has argued that family violence arises from social factors that cannot be addressed effectively without a co-ordinated effort between the government, police and social workers.

Youth drug abuse is no different, except that primary and secondary schools also have a valuable role to play in educating children in the dangers of drug use. The government makes the teaching resources available. It is a sensitive area involving parental prerogative, but school authorities also have an important part to play.

The most innovative ways of helping dysfunctional families or troubled youth can be found among the voluntary and charitable groups under the umbrella of the Council of Social Service - a non-government organisation. The government has the resources to empower them. Given the support and co-operation they need, they could make a difference.