Paternity leave plan under fire
Legal experts have attacked the government for excluding unmarried men from proposed paternity leave for civil servants.
They say this is not only discriminatory but is out of step with global developments.
The Equal Opportunities Commission said it would look into details of the proposal, although it conceded the government would not be caught out under anti-discrimination laws as these do not cover the civil service. But the watchdog said it needed more time to study what could be complicated scenarios.
In a consultation paper released on Monday, the Civil Service Bureau proposed granting three to five days of paid paternity leave 'to promote child-bearing and family-friendly perspectives'. It restricted the benefit to births within marriage.
Human Rights Monitor director Law Yuk-kai said this could contravene the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. 'The government is bound by Article 39 of the Basic Law to comply with the ICCPR to prohibit discrimination,' he said.
Article 26 of the covenant states that all persons are equal before the law, which should guarantee protection against discrimination on any grounds. Law said the proposal was also discriminatory because it disregarded blood as a primary definition of immediate family member.
'The government cannot just emphasise the bonding by marriage but neglect the blood relationship between the father and the newborn baby whom he has to take care of, no matter if he is married or not.'
Civic Party lawmaker and barrister Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee said the arrangement would be a step backward as no other local laws gave preferential treatment to married couples or their children. 'Legitimate and illegitimate children are entitled to the same rights; the domestic violence ordinance does not differentiate marital and non-marital couples, either,' she said.
Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai, an expert in population policy at the University of Hong Kong, said the government's concept of family had failed to evolve with time and global standards. He said: 'I can imagine they restrict the arrangement to married couples only for ease of administration, [but] simply adopting the legal marriage concept is obsolete.'
The Civil Service Bureau said the proposal was in line with existing policy on benefits such as medical and dental claims, which are extended only to married spouses.
Neither the Census and Statistics Department nor the Immigration Department could provide an official count of non-marital births, but according to the Social Indicators of Hong Kong - an index compiled by the Council of Social Service - the percentage of children born out of wedlock rose from 4.55 per cent in 1991 to 9.81 per cent in 2008.
The minimum number of weeks male employees in Britain must have worked for to be entitled to paternity leave for their biological child