Tsang is failing us, children say
More than 1,000 children gave Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen zero marks in their assessment of his government's work in improving children's welfare over the past year. It is the first time they have given him a nil rating since the annual assessment was launched four years ago.
Organised by the Society for Community Organisation Children's Rights Association, the exercise asks underprivileged children to rate the government's performance in 10 areas, including the provision of social services and poverty-alleviation work.
In the survey, 1,400 people aged from six to 17 from low-income families took part. Sixteen children 'ambassadors' were selected through a vote to assign marks to the different areas, from minus 10 to 10, with 10 being the highest grade.
The area that received the lowest rating, minus five, was the provision of medical services. Five areas including education and poverty-alleviation work scored zero. Social welfare provision and the government's work in tackling the problem of child vagrancy and latchkey children received the highest rating - three marks. After adding up the grades for the 10 areas, the total mark for the overall government performance in promoting children's welfare was zero. A similar exercise conducted in 2008 gave the government 19 marks.
Sze Lai-shan, a community organiser with the society, attributed the dismal rating to the economic downturn and the slow speed of the government in trying to improve their welfare. 'More than 340,000 children lived below the poverty line in 2008,' she says. 'Many children out there are living in wretched conditions, with insufficient food and no money to participate in extracurricular activities.'
Three hundred children and parents attended a meeting in Shek Kip Mei Community Hall yesterday where the results of the assessment were released. With eggs being pronounced the same as zero in Cantonese, 10 children threw eggs at an effigy of Tsang in a symbolic gesture.
One of the parents in attendance was Yu Chun-yin, a divorced housewife without a job.
Yu, who receives HK$5,000 in government welfare every month, says life is a perennial struggle for them.
'We eat chicken only once a week,' she says. 'We always eat leftovers and I don't dare bring my two sons anywhere as the travel expenses would put huge pressure on the family budget.'
Many of those at the meeting were single-parent families consisting of a divorced mainland mother and her young offspring. Part-time packaging worker and divorced mother Zhing Yueming and her eight-year-old daughter Lin Yongyin were among them.
Zhing says her biggest wish is to get a public housing flat so that her daughter and 14-year-old son can have a better life.
'We are renting a small room in a dilapidated old building in Kwun Tong for HK$3,300 a month,' she says.
She also wants the government to provide free tutorial classes or babysitting arrangements after school so that she can get a full-time job and wean herself off government welfare.
Her daughter Yongyin says she wants the government to help her afford extra-curricular activities at school.
Sze says new mainland arrivals with young children bear the brunt of the economic downturn. She said the government should ease the residency requirement for social security applicants.
'Only those who have lived in Hong Kong for seven years are eligible for welfare,' she says.
'Although the Social Welfare Department says they will exercise discretion when handling cases involving new mainland arrivals, many mainland mothers complained that they were rejected because they couldn't fulfil the seven-year rule.'
From January 2004 to September 2008, there were 16,050 social security applications from new mainland arrivals who have lived in Hong Kong for less than seven years. Of which, only 4,502, or 28 per cent, were successful.
Sze said more resources should be injected into the public hospital sector so that the queuing time for needy children would be shorter.
The Child Development Fund established by the government in 2008 should also be reformed.
'Instead of setting the quota at 700 places, they should allow every needy child in Hong Kong to join the fund. They should also let those who cannot afford to contribute to the fund to do volunteer service in lieu of payment.'
Hand to mouth
The five districts with the highest numbers of children living under the 'poverty line' in 2008. The line equals half the median (HK$6,000) of per capita monthly household income of all households.
Sham Shui Po
Percentage living below 'poverty line': 39.6%
Number of people under 18: 57,600
Percentage living below 'poverty line': 39.6%
Number of people under 18: 55,700
Percentage living below 'poverty line': 37.3%
Number of people under 18: 31,600
Percentage living below 'poverty line': 37.5%
Number of people under 18: 86,400
Percentage living below 'poverty line': 38.9%
Number of people under 18: 114,800
SOURCE: CENSUS AND STATISTICS DEPARTMENT