Be more sensitive with hawkers, officers told
Hawker control squads have been asked to enforce the law with sensitivity and 'proportionality' after issuing a summons to an elderly woman selling nail clippers and combs in Kwun Tong, which sparked fierce public criticism.
The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department has yet to study a squad report before deciding if it will prosecute the 74-year-old woman for hawking without a licence.
At one point during the Tuesday incident, the woman, who suffers from hypertension and recently had cataract surgery, got down on her knees and begged the officers for mercy.
Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor yesterday wrote to the department's director, Cheuk Wing-hing, urging the department to end what it calls a draconian policy against hawkers. The group said a prosecution and confiscation of goods would be a serious blow to the elderly woman's financial situation and the dignity of the poor. It also urged the department to make public its investigation into the case.
A senior official said the department was concerned about the incident and had reminded frontline staff of a guideline which allows for discretion when dealing with elderly people and disabled illegal hawkers.
Under the guideline, a warning should be given before issuing a summons to illegal hawkers who do not sell cooked food, or are not hawking at one of the 240 barred spots such as MTR exits and busy streets.
'The operation guidelines have been here for nine years,' the official said. 'We have been reminding our frontline staff that they should be sensitive during their operations. A warning should be given first for minor breaches of the rule. They should exercise reasonable discretion if the hawkers are elderly or people with disabilities.
'Of course, the department has to enforce the law if the illegal hawkers ignore repeated warnings, but the action has to be proportional to the offences,' the official said.
The official said the department did not have a quota system for the issuing of summonses. 'In fact, what we want to see is a drop in the number of summonses and people building an environment with better hygiene.'
The elderly woman has sold nail clippers, combs and sewing kits in front of a money exchange shop in Hong Ning Road, Kwun Tong, for years. She earns about HK$50 a day, which helps to support her husband.