UN monitors Hong Kong to see how needy kids live

Two rights monitors were invited by local NGO for first-hand look at plight of needy youngsters

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 August, 2013, 4:52am

Two United Nations monitors of children's rights are set to call on families living in subdivided homes, and on other underprivileged and special-needs children, for a glimpse at their life in Hong Kong.

It is the first overseas trip the pair are making in their capacity as members of the 18-strong UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and was made possible by the invitation of a local NGO.

The visit takes place ahead of the Children's Rights Convention in Geneva next month, where the Hong Kong government is expected to present a report on the topic, and will then receive comments and suggestions from the UN.

Committee chairwoman Kirsten Sandberg and rapporteur Maria Herczog, an expert researcher, arrived on Monday for the week-long stay, and are due to meet more than 40 groups.

"It will be very interesting to meet the children and talk with them directly, to hear about their experiences and their views about being children in Hong Kong," Sandberg said yesterday before the first of their meetings.

The invitation to visit, issued by the non-profit Hong Kong Committee on Children's Rights, was the first the pair had received since getting elected a few years ago to the UN committee.

Herczog said it was rare for NGOs to invite UN members, as they had to shoulder all the expenses of the visit.

"It is also important for us to meet as many professionals as we can who are working with children and providing children's services, who wouldn't come to Geneva to meet us otherwise."

Last night, close to 50 children and teenagers from 12 groups met the pair, drawing attention to wide-ranging issues including the financial pressure of buying textbooks, ethnic-minority rights, suicides related to school stress and hopes of getting a decent home.

The children read out speeches that they had prepared themselves.

"My wish is to live with my mum and little sister and brother in a permanent home," said eight-year-old Hilda Cheung, who lives at the Caritas family crisis centre in Kowloon Bay to avoid violence at home.

Hilda's sister, five-year-old Yoyo, said: "I'd like it if my mum gets to sleep in a real bed, and we can all watch TV together."

Numan Gharib, 16, talked about the difficulties in learning Chinese despite being born and raised in Hong Kong, because of a lack of official support. "We would like the government to not focus just on the Chinese language, and to allow ethnic minorities to attend university."

A few groups talked about an overemphasis on grades and exam results, as well as a lack of job diversity and prospects for the future.

Both Sandberg and Herczog said the visit would help them understand the real situation for children in Hong Kong.

Herczog said she was aware of how undeveloped early-childhood services and educational programmes were in Hong Kong.

In February, a few Hong Kong NGOs presented reports to the UN at a closed-door Geneva meeting. The Hong Kong committee said in its report that one in every four children in the city lived in poverty.