United Nations

Terrible conditions an 'insult to human dignity'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 April, 2011, 12:00am

In an otherwise opulent Hong Kong, more than 100,000 people live in tiny cages and cubicles that the UN has deemed 'insulting to human dignity'.

Most Hongkongers know little about the life of such 'cage dwellers'.

I came to understand the gravity of their situation only a year ago - after living in Hong Kong for six years.

Some of my friends and I have begun visiting children who live in such cage homes with their parents. We help them with their English homework. Because they have no space at home to spread out their books and study, we meet in a classroom in Sham Shui Po, within walking distance of one of the many cage home units in the area. I have also visited cage homes several times with Sze Lai-shan, a dedicated social worker for Soco.

During a visit, I noticed a narrow staircase that led up to one of the apartments. The small entrance was flanked by a restaurant on one side and a clothing store on the other. An upstairs apartment we visited was divided into around 20 cages. There were also two toilet stalls (each equipped with the stump of a hosepipe for showering) and a run-down kitchen with broken windows.

The toilet stalls had no doors and just a thin wooden board separated them. There was no privacy for the 20 residents who used them. Two toilets for all of them meant that 10 people had to use a single one. That's very unhygienic.

Other aspects of life in the cage homes were similarly terrible.

The only solution to help people escape the confines of their tiny living areas is to provide them with public housing.

But that's easier said than done. Currently, there are around 20,000 new public housing units made available each year. That number is hardly adequate to re-house the more than 100,000 cage home residents.

The Hong Kong government has told the UN that demand for cage homes remained strong, despite the terrible living conditions. I believe that the only reason anyone ever chooses to live in a cage home is for lack of an alternative. Even a cage home looks superior to a cardboard box on the street.

Monthly rent for a cage home can cost up to HK$93.30 per square foot, as opposed to HK$72 per square foot for a spacious four-bedroom luxury flat in Stanley, according to a report by Soco.

I am currently organising an inter-school triathlon that will hopefully take place later this year. My aim is to raise a substantial sum of money for Soco.

Meanwhile, I will also keep up my weekly visits to the children who live in cage homes.

I hope we can soon stir the Hong Kong government out of its wilful ignorance and callous disregard for the life of cage home residents.

Hetty is a Young Post junior reporter. She is a volunteer at Soco, where she teaches English to cage home children