End in sight for racial bias?

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 December, 2006, 12:00am

AFTER MORE than a decade of debate, the Race Discrimination Bill has finally been drawn up, offering protection to local ethnic minorities from discrimination and harassment on the grounds of race.

After the law comes into force, many discriminatory acts aimed at people of ethnic backgrounds will be outlawed.

According to the bill, people who call others such derogatory names as 'nigger' and 'Ah Cha' (a Cantonese insulting term for Indians) can be charged with vilification and harassment.

Employers who refuse to employ job candidates on the grounds of race are also liable for prosecution.

After investigations by the Equal Opportunities Commission, people convicted of racial discrimination face a maximum fine of HK$25,000 and two-year imprisonment.

While the bill covers many areas (e.g. employment, education, provision of services, election and tenancy) that affect the daily lives of ethnic minorities, it includes exemptions that critics claim are intended to protect the vested interests in society and stem a wave of litigation that may be launched by people empowered by the new law.

The exemption on language use at local schools has drawn the fiercest protests from local rights groups. It dealt a severe blow to the call from local non-Chinese speaking students for a separate Chinese curriculum.

'The law effectively barred minority students from taking schools to court for failing to provide them with extra support to learn Chinese. With so many exemptions, the law is toothless,' said Law Yuk-kai, director of non-governmental organisation Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor.

While local rights groups think the law is not strong enough to protect ethnic minorities, employers and landlords are worried that the minefield of regulations will make them vulnerable to a rash of lawsuits. Under the law, landlords with over six tenants would be liable for prosecution if they refuse to lease their units to someone on the grounds of race. The Hong Kong Property Owners Club, with over 4,000 members, thinks the law is unfair to house owners.

'The exemption only applies to small-flat owners. Big-flat owners would break the law if they decline applications by minority people,' said Michael Shea Hing-wan, chairman of the Hong Kong Property Owners Club.

'I received complaints from members who said their houses would still reek of curry one year after their Indian tenants moved out. Failing to get rid of the smell, they had to sell their houses at a discounted price.'

With the law arousing controversy in different sectors, the government needs to educate the public more about its provisions and raise people's awareness of racial discrimination.

The exemptions included in the bill

1. Existing preferential treatment for expatriate employees

2. Households prefer a particular race when employing domestic helpers

3. The medium of instruction used in schools

4. Small-flat landlords who have less than six tenants


1. There are over 300,000 non-Chinese speaking people in Hong Kong, accounting for around five per cent of the population.

2. Filipinos make up the biggest group of non-Chinese people - 140,000 of them reside in Hong Kong now, accounting for two per cent of the population.

Think about

1. Do you know anyone whose nationality is different from yours?

2. Are there any minority students in your school? Do you get along well with them?

3. Do you think the Race Discrimination Bill has too many exemptions? Do you think it is strong enough to protect ethnic minorities?

4. Have you witnessed any discriminatory acts committed by locals towards minority people?

Word power

Match the words with their meanings on the right







reek (of)


smell unpleasantly (of something)

immunity, freedom from something

being hurt by something easily

continued annoyance

banned, declared to be illegal

hurting others' dignity

Fill in the blanks with the words you have learned

1. Bosses making suggestive remarks in the office in front of female colleagues could be prosecuted for sexual _________.

2. His clothes ______ of cigarettes. He must have just had a smoke.

3. Hybrid drivers can enjoy __________ from emissions-testing.

4. Young birds are ________ to predators.

5. Some people fear that the enactment of the racial discrimination law would trigger a wave of ________.

6. The Falun Gong was ______ in China for being an 'evil cult'.

7. It is very _______ to call people pigs.

Language focus

Adjectives and prepositions

Some adjectives must be followed with fixed prepositions. Below are examples from the passage.

1. Landlords are worried that the minefield of regulations will make them vulnerable to a rash of lawsuits.

2. Employers who refuse to employ job candidates on the grounds of race are also liable for prosecution.

Fill in the blanks with the correct prepositions.

1. Van Gogh was famous _____ his sunflower paintings.

2. I am very satisfied _______ my performance.

3. My home is very far _____ here.

4. He finds studying overseas preferable ____ enrolling in a local school.

5. Mary was shocked _____ the news of his death.

6. He is worried _______ his future.


Page: 7 - Word power outlawed - banned, declared to be illegal; insulting - hurting others' dignity; harassment - continued annoyance; exemption - immunity, freedom from something; litigation - lawsuits; vulnerable - being hurt by something easily; reek (of) - smell unpleasantly (of something)

1. harassment 2. reek 3. exemption 4. vulnerable 5. lawsuits 6. outlawed 7. insulting

Language focus 1. for 2. with 3. from 4. to 5. at 6. about