Internet, ageing population, lack of funds result in membership crisis The city's uniformed youth groups are suffering a membership crisis as already declining interest is compounded by an ageing population and falling government subsidies. Groups canvassed by the South China Morning Post reported alarming declines in new enrolments in recent years. Of those able to provide definite numbers, Road Safety Patrol, a youth initiative of the Hong Kong Road Safety Association for children aged 4 to 17, reported the number of new members had fallen by a quarter, from 4,821 in 2003 to 3,609 in 2007. Junior Police Call, the largest youth group in the city, also recorded a 24.2 per cent decrease in new enrolments, from 20,900 in 2003 to 15,839 in 2007. It had 141,483 members at the end of July last year. Directors of the groups said much of the blame for the reduced intake could be put down to the proliferation of other activities for young people, particularly computer games and the internet. One of the groups, St John Ambulance, recently began a recruitment drive using Canto-pop singer Karen Mok Man-wai as a spokeswoman. The decline in interest was lamentable, said William Yip Kam-yuen, principal of Yu Chun Keung Memorial College No 2 in Pok Fu Lam, because the qualities the groups instilled, such as discipline, leadership, initiative and community service, were also vital aspects of young people's education. Mr Yip said his school required all Form One pupils to join one of the school's seven uniformed groups. But as students got older, they wanted more freedom so it was common to see many dropping out in the higher forms, he said. The directors observed the decline, which had been apparent for about two decades, had intensified in the past few years. Aside from increased study loads demanding students' time, the city's slowing birth rate was also a factor, said Shirley Lau Mok Siu-hing, chief executive of the Girl Guides Association. But a top management officer of a uniformed group, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the main problem was declining government support. 'We hesitate to establish new divisions because we are unsure whether more resources will be in place to sustain their operations,' he said. The freezing in 2004 of a government subsidy scheme for establishing new divisions had precipitated the current decline, he said. General subventions had also declined by about 10 per cent in the intervening years, the officer said. However, the Home Affairs Bureau said that while subvention to the 10 major uniformed youth groups had declined from HK$40.82 million in 2004 to HK$39.46 million in 2007, it had risen in 2008 to HK$41.48 million. However, while enrolments were shrinking, groups had been able to retain more, older members. As a result, the average subvention per member had fallen, from HK$314.90 in 2004 to HK$299.70 last year. The programme subsidising new divisions, which had been worth about HK$50 million over three years, had seen 960 new divisions started up to the benefit of some 33,200 students, according to government figures. But with the economic slowdown, Mrs Lau said groups would face more trouble raising funds from private donations.