HK health chief visits girls' home
HONG Kong's health and welfare chief has checked out a girls' remand home following revelations of unhygienic and crowded conditions there.
The South China Morning Post yesterday reported allegations by a staff member of the Ma Tau Wei Girls' Home that 90 per cent of the 200 inmates had venereal diseases.
The staff member said the girls, many of them arrested in karaoke bars which serve as fronts for sex deals, were living in smelly, cockroach-infested rooms.
Legislators and welfare groups were quick to voice concern and a joint visit was made yesterday by the Secretary for Health and Welfare Elizabeth Wong Chien Chi-lien and legislator Emily Lau Wei-hing.
It is understood Mrs Wong, who could not be reached last night, was very concerned about the situation and would try out every possible measure to improve the home's conditions.
Ms Lau said: ''I am very worried about the situation because if the police continue to raid karaoke lounges, more places for inmates would be needed. Something must be done to solve the problem.'' ''We visited the (four-person) bedrooms which still have to be shared by five to six girls. Many inmates could only have meals inside their rooms.'' However, she said she did not find the home as unhygienic as described by the staff member. ''What I saw is that the place was not very unhygienic and the girls seemed to be quite cheerful.
But they are really very young, with the youngest aged only 11,'' Ms Lau said.
But a source at the home said the place had been cleaned up before the visit, of which notice had been given.
The Social Welfare Department last night said the allegation ''that 90 per cent of the inmates had venereal disease was absurd and untrue''.
A department spokesman said ''there are only very few girls'' suffering from venereal diseases and the allegation ''was not only incorrect in itself but had also caused unnecessary public alarm''. He said girls with venereal diseases would be given proper treatment and the home would also carry out precautionary measures as required.
The department has requested the Hospital Authority to increase the number of visits by doctors in view of the growing intake during the past few weeks.
But the staff member at the centre who disclosed the problem said: ''I am telling the truth, the department just wants to cover up the problem.'' The venereal diseases she refers to include vaginitis, gonorrhoea, genital warts and syphilis.
She said she was not disappointed or surprised by the denial of the department which had warned disciplinary action against staff who disclose conditions about the home.
It is understood the department is attempting to track down the informer.
Legislator Tik Chi-yuen called on the Government to increase youth welfare funding in the long-run.
''There has not been any increase in the funding for youth welfare for a few years, but this is needed given the increasingly complicated youth problems,'' he said.
United Democrats' social welfare spokesman Yeung Sum said: ''I would ask the department through Legco's welfare panel to give information about all its juvenile homes' conditions, including the staffing and demand level, to review the whole situation.''