Hardline bill targets campaign of hate

Agatha Ngai

TOUGH penalties to battle discrimination against the handicapped, the elderly, women and other groups are proposed in a wide-ranging private member's bill to be published for discussion next year.

The move, by Legislative Councillor and Law Society Council member Anna Wu Hung-yuk, has been sparked by escalating attacks on handicapped groups and their centres.

A week ago, Tung Tau Estate residents used death threats and vandalism to protest against a Down's syndrome day centre near their homes. Earlier in the year, a hostel for the mentally handicapped at another Tung Tau Estate block was also attacked while proposals for a psychiatric patients' day centre at Laguna City prompted similar opposition.

The bill is expected to gain strong support from women's groups, who have criticised the Government's efforts to curb discrimination, in the form of the Green Paper on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, for not going far enough.

Ms Wu expects her bill to be ready for comment by the end of the first quarter of next year, and possibly adopted by 1995.

She plans to introduce it into Legco by June when the United Nations Human Rights Committee expects Hong Kong to report on implementation of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convention on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights.

Ms Wu said she had started work on the bill because ''deteriorating attitudes to the physically and mentally impaired have become appalling''.

Hong Kong needed legislation with penalties, ranging from public apologies to fines, for specific types of discrimination so that the underprivileged had adequate protection, she said.

The Government had done little, even after the Bill of Rights debates of 1990-91 had shown widespread support for private sector anti-discrimination legislation.

Women's groups are already concerned about the Green Paper on Equal Opportunities, a summary of which has been obtained by the South China Morning Post ahead of its release at the end of the month, and the attitude of senior government officials.

Acting Governor Sir David Ford was accused of being sexist and ignorant of the issue after comments he made last week in support of the paper.

The Hong Kong Women Christian Council said Sir David's address reflected the Government's half-hearted approach, because he was making pre-judgments on women's roles even before the Green Paper was released.

It criticised his ''selective'' use of statistics, and ''sexist comments'' such as ''the availability of support to mothers in helping them fulfil their family obligations''.

Hong Kong Federation of Women Lawyers' spokesman Wong Hing-chun criticised Sir David's claim that equal opportunities had already narrowed the gap between the rights of men and women.

''There is obviously a big problem when so many females are earning only 60 to 70 per cent of what men in equivalent jobs earn.'' University of Hong Kong law lecturer Andrew Byrnes claimed Sir David's intervention was a clear indication that nothing progressive would follow from the paper.

Sir David's address reflected the old-fashioned misunderstanding that women's rights only affected women, he said.

Women's groups say the Green Paper does not address specific problems such as sexual harassment, domestic violence, struggling working mothers and sexist rules which still exist in some old New Territories villages.

For example, they said the document stated that certain customs and traditions observed by the indigenous population in the New Territories lay down rules for succession of land along the male line only. The paper did not give possible solutions.

Women's groups said years of discussion had established that discrimination existed, and legislation, adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and a Women's Commission were essential.

They also questioned whether the Government had done enough to stimulate widespread discussion.

The groups said they would consider the paper, but would probably push for an independent survey or a referendum.