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Hong Kong housing

Revealed: heartbreaking plight of 40,000 Hong Kong children stunted by life in tiny flats ... and it’s getting worse

Study by Society for Community Organisation shows housing remains top concern for city’s underprivileged youngsters

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 December, 2015, 7:30pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 January, 2016, 2:26pm

More than 40,000 Hong Kong children are living in such cramped conditions that their physical, psychological and emotional development is being stunted massively, according to a major new study on top concerns of underprivileged children.

The number is up by more than 10,000 from last year.

Housing continues to top the list of worries for the children who took part in the only targeted exercise canvassing views of underprivileged children in Hong Kong.

READ MORE: Residents at risk as ‘1 in 5 subdivided Hong Kong flats has hazardous air pollutants exceeding safe limits’

“Various studies have shown how detrimental living in such tight places can be to children. Even sleeping could be a problem – many children say that they couldn’t even sleep well because of the bed bugs and the bad air,” said Sze Lai-shan from the Society for Community Organisation, which has done this report for the 11th year.

Of the 1,800 underprivileged children who took part in the discussion and voting on the top 10 concerns of 2015, 70 per cent live in subdivided flats, said the community organiser.

Subdivided flats – units sliced out of an apartment, usually in old tenement buildings – can range in size from 60 square feet to 130 square feet, which could house a whole family.

Housing Authority figures estimated that around 170,000 people lived in subdivided flats in 2013, with the number increasing to 190,000 this year as rents continue to rise.

Over half a million people are queuing up for public housing flats – with over 102,000 being under 18 years of age – as the government continues to build 15,000 new flats a year, stating that land is “hard to find”.

Nine-year-old David Wong Hung-to, who moved from a shelter to a subdivided flat a year ago, said there is nowhere to do homework – the only table is a folding one brought out for meals.

Wong said there have been no mid-term to short-term measures, such as rent control or subsidies, to help families in these housing situations.

These tight living spaces affect the children’s school performance, and psychologically and socially also cripple them, said Sze. There is no privacy, no place to play, and they are excluded socially as they can never bring friends home.

Some children get laughed at in school because of this as well, she added.

“If it’s just a short stay [in subdivided flats], it’s okay. But with the public housing queue getting longer and longer, children now live in these spaces for three to four years, sometimes five or six years,” said Sze. “It seriously affects a child’s growth ... they should not be in such spaces for so long.”

READ MORE: Key housing committee warns over rent controls, building on country parks

Form 1 student and ambassador for the Children’s Rights Association Eddie Yeung Ka-on said children gave the Leung Chun-ying administration just eight out of 100 points in 2015 –12 points lower than in 2014 – because there has been little improvement made in housing, education, medical and welfare sectors for underprivileged children.

“The social problems have become even worse, but there have been no concrete policies made ... the government is very slow,” he said.

Coming second in the list of concerns is education, with social welfare ranking third and medical issues fourth.