Survey reveals scale of family unfriendly malls
Developers seem to ignore the fact parents shop too, with few facilities for changing or feeding babies. Singapore is showing how it can be done
The head of the government's Family Council has called for space for children - from nursing rooms to free activity corners - to be made compulsory in Hong Kong's shopping malls after a South China Morning Post survey found parents and children were not being catered for.
Hong Kong is far behind Singapore on the issue, with its rival city preparing to launch a new building code that will require 13 specified family friendly features in new malls.
In the survey, the Post interviewed the operators of 15 large shopping centres to ask whether they provided the facilities that would become compulsory in Singapore next April.
There was a scarcity of nursing rooms, safety seats for babies in toilets and family washrooms - and a lack of signs directing people to such facilities.
"The existing situation is not satisfactory," said the council's new chairman, Daniel Shek Tan-lei. "The Family Council is very concerned."
Shek, a professor specialising in family studies at Polytechnic University, said the city should follow Singapore's lead in making such provisions.
The 15 shopping centres in the survey involve seven developers: Wharf Holdings, Henderson Land, Sun Hung Kai Properties, MTR, Swire and Hysan, as well as The Link Reit, which has taken over Housing Authority malls.
Today, the government is launching its public consultation on population policy, with the city's falling birth rate and lack of incentives to start a family firmly on the agenda.
The survey found 80 per cent of malls did not provide child-protection seats - which allow parents to secure a baby while they go to the toilet. And only two, Sunshine City Plaza in Ma On Shan and Lok Fu Plaza in Kowloon City, offer washrooms for individual families, with facilities open to both men and women with their children.
Child-sized toilets were found in only 10 malls, but only six provided a hand basin that a child can reach.
Despite the government encouraging women to breastfeed rather than use formula milk, 11 malls were equipped with only one to two nursing rooms. Those in APM, in Kwun Tong, are locked and only opened upon request.
Harbour City was the only mall to reserve parking spaces for families and pregnant women. Only three malls offered space for children to play in for free.
Overall, Lok Fu Plaza and Harbour City scored well.
Cheung Kong Properties did not respond to the survey.
Obstetrician Dr Vivian Wong Taam Chi-woon, a former interim chief executive for the Hospital Authority, said provisions were inadequate. "Can you imagine a mother rushing to find a space to nurse her baby without clear signage?"
Singapore's Building and Construction Authority chief executive Dr John Keung said the revised code on accessibility would require all new buildings that are open to the public and those undergoing major renovation to provide a list of 13 family friendly facilities.
He added that nursing rooms should meet food-hygiene standards and would not be allowed in toilets.
As well as malls over 10,000 square metres, the new rules would cover transport interchanges and sports complexes.
Wong said the government should take the lead and developers should be forced to follow.
The Home Affairs Bureau said there were 170 rooms for nursing mothers in government buildings and the number would increase by 50 in the next few years.