Crowded shelter for battered women cannot meet demand

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 April, 2008, 12:00am

A voluntary organisation that provides refuge for victims of domestic violence is turning away nearly six times as many applicants as it did six years ago amid a rise in the number of cases and a lack of shelter space.

Harmony House was forced to reject 678 applications for its shelter for domestic violence victims in 2006-07, compared with 127 rejections in 2001-02, due to limited capacity.

The number of shelter places had remained at 40 a day over the past few years, said Margaret Wong Fung-yee, executive director of the Jockey Club Harmony Link Domestic Violence Prevention Centre, as the shelter is known.

'The demand for our service is so strong that our shelter is often fully occupied,' she said.

In his budget in February, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah proposed an extra HK$40 million a year to strengthen support for victims of domestic violence and families in need.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung told a special meeting of the Legislative Council Finance Committee yesterday that the government planned to soon increase daily shelter places in the city by 65, to 260.

Ms Wong said their shelter could provide 25 to 30 more places with the extra resources, but 'it was still insufficient'.

There are four shelters for victims of domestic violence or family crisis. Apart from Harmony House's, there are two run by Po Leung Kuk - Wai On Home for Women and Sunrise Court - and Serene Court, run by the Christian Family Service Centre.

Social Welfare Department figures showed that spouse abuse cases almost doubled from 2,433 in 2001 to 4,424 in 2006, while child abuse cases surged 51 per cent from 535 in 2001 to 806 in 2006.

The Harmony House figures also showed that more mainland migrants stayed in its shelter over the past five years. In 2005-06, 175 mainland-born women stayed there, accounting for 78.4 per cent of its users, up 6.2 percentage points from the year 2001-02.

Ms Wong pointed to an increase in cross-border marriages in recent years. 'Those families may face some financial problems and have more arguments when they live together in Hong Kong,' she said.

Ms Wong said children in families wracked by domestic violence felt helpless, angry or fearful.

She reminded teachers to take note of students' emotions and behaviour, to spot children in troubled families. 'If a child who used to behave well suddenly starts bullying others, teachers should talk to him to find out what he facing at home.'

No refuge

Harmony House

has 40 places in its shelter for victims of domestic violence

The number of applications it had to turn away in 2006-07 due to limited capacity: 678