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Poverty line

Hong Kong’s children list livelihood concerns after giving government failing grade for welfare

Civil Children’s Ombudsman group gives score of zero for housing, medical welfare and new immigrant family protections

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 January, 2017, 10:54pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 January, 2017, 11:02pm

The government’s efforts to improve the well-being of Hong Kong’s underprivileged children has made some progress in the past year, but still failed to achieve a passing grade on one advocacy group’s annual report card.

The Civil Children’s Ombudsman group, made up of 2,000 youth ambassadors aged 17 and under, gave the government an overall score of 15 out of 100 for dealing with their top 10 livelihood concerns in 2016. It was a slight improvement on the 8 out of 100 score recorded in 2015.

The group gave the government zero points for its policies on housing, medical welfare and new immigrant family protections, and for its lack of commission on children’s rights. The most points were given to after-school care services for poor families, which received a score of five, and free education, which received a score of four.

“The children are incredibly disappointed. Although they launched free kindergarten education and the low-income working family allowance last year, the government’s pace is still too slow,” Sze Lai-shan from the Society for Community Organisation said during yesterday’s launch of the annual report.

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Outlining their top 10 priorities for 2017, the children ambassadors named housing as their biggest concern, followed by education and medical services.

Some 246,000 of the city’s youths aged under 18 live below the poverty line, according to official statistics.

The organisation estimated that close to 50,000 of the city’s underprivileged youths were living in inadequate conditions such as cage homes or partitioned flats.

About 200,000 people were living in some 88,000 subdivided units in 2015, Census and Statistics Department figures showed.

Sze said that living in such conditions was detrimental to the physical and emotional health of children.

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“Space is cramped and lighting is dim. How are they supposed to develop and grow healthily?” she questioned.

Sze said there were many cases of children’s confidence and grades suffering because they had been teased at school for living in public housing. Longer waiting times to get into public housing was another key concern for underprivileged children, she added.

As of September, waiting times for public housing applicants had stretched out to an average of 4.5, well above the government’s target of a three-year wait time.

Lawmaker for the social welfare sector Shiu Ka-chun criticised the government for its lack of long-term strategies for children’s welfare.

“The biggest problem is their policies seem to be strategically for their own political campaigns, rather than for the welfare of the least, the last and the lost,” Shiu said.

He said the government needed to focus on rent subsidies, transitional housing and rent control in order to tackle the city’s housing shortage.