Kuk shoots down move for women to inherit

THE all-male Heung Yee Kuk has again stymied plans which would grant indigenous women the right to inherit property in the New Territories.

The Deputy Regional Secretary for the New Territories, Mr Fred Ting Fuk-cheung, said yesterday the leading rural body had objected to proposed amendments to the New Territories Ordinance as ''unnecessary'' when it met Government officials on Tuesday.

''They have already given their initial reaction, which is they would not like to have any of these proposed amendments. They don't think it's necessary,'' he said.

But the Kuk has been warned that the Government may force through changes to traditional New Territories law, which states ancestral land is inherited by the male line unless it is willed to a female family member.

The proposed amendments were planned to be introduced in the 1993-94 legislative session but Mr Ting said the Government would have to reconsider in light of the Kuk's stance.

The Government's support for equal inheritance rights appears to reverse its earlier position, with the Regional Secretary (New Territories), Mr Albert Lam Chi-chiu, in February ruling out the inclusion of the issue in a review of the ordinance.

Mr Lam said then it was a question of respecting customs but, in a visit to Tai Po last week, he raised the issue of women's involvement in village politics with indigenous representatives, urging them to ''move with the times'' and encourage women to participate.

The proposed changes were welcomed yesterday by the Association for the Advancement of Feminism, with executive secretary Miss Tsang Gar-yin saying the Kuk's position was unjustifiable.

''I think their justification that it's based on Chinese customary law is not convincing. Many of the old Chinese customs have already been changed along with the developments in society, changes in attitudes and ways of living,'' she said.

Miss Tsang said the Government should ''press on regardless'' of opposition to enforce the principles and ideals supported by society.

Mr Ting said yesterday he had not expected the Kuk to accept the proposals, but that the changes would come eventually.

''I am confident that some kind of change will happen, I'm pretty confident of that. It may not be now or next year but definitely sometime in the future,'' he said.

''Certainly the Kuk has got to change with the times. But it doesn't mean if we don't change today we won't change a year later. There's a Chinese saying that there's no need for us to fight for one day or one night.'' Mr Ting said the Kuk's stated main objection to the amendments was to avoid unnecessary disruption in the lead-up to 1997, but he said the Government remained committed.

''We've got to ensure that this sort of situation, however unlikely, will never arise. Very few people will be affected [by the changes], only those people who want to take away their sisters' property,'' he said.

Mr Ting said the Government would force change on the Kuk if it continued to resist and ''if we were convinced that the Hongkong community will benefit'' but he stressed it was a last resort.

''Basically, this is the Government's proposals on the table. We will genuinely consult with the Heung Yee Kuk . . . I've got to emphasise the consultation exercise will be a real consultation exercise,'' he said.

A meeting to consider the issue is expected this month.

Heung Yee Kuk chairman Mr Lau Wong-fat and other senior members were unavailable for comment last night.