It’s time to build on Hong Kong’s achievements in anti-discrimination laws

The government must weigh the planned revisions to the laws carefully to make sure they are in the interests of all in our society

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 April, 2016, 11:20pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 April, 2016, 11:20pm

When it comes to fighting prejudice and bias, there is no better authority than the Equal Opportunities Commission. Having administered the four pieces of anti-discrimination legislation for years, the watchdog is in the best position to tell what more is needed to better protect the community, in particular the underprivileged and vulnerable. After nearly two years of review, the commission has tabled a package of proposed changes to the legislation for government’s consideration. This includes better protection for mothers breast-feeding in public and for disabled persons with guide dogs. The proposals were part of the 70-odd recommendations that came from the experience of law enforcement and from feedback from a public consultation. The government should seriously consider them.

It is good to hear that the commission has not shied away from recommending legislative reform in two other areas – to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of nationality, citizenship and residency status, and to protect persons in cohabitation relationships. The two proposals have fuelled heated debate during the commission’s consultation. The former touches on the rising tension between mainlanders and Hongkongers, while the latter has fuelled concerns that it may become de facto legal recognition for unmarried couples, including same-sex relationships. The watchdog, while maintaining the need for change, urges the government to first consult the community further on how to go about the two proposals.

Those who would like to have new legislation in place as early as possible are understandably disappointed. But the two proposals are highly controversial, as reflected in the 125,000 submissions received in the first consultation. The government cannot be expected to commit to legislating without first studying the impact carefully.

The enactment of an anti-discrimination law is not about doing what the majority feels comfortable with. At stake are the rights of the minorities in society. As outgoing commission chairman York Chow Yat-ngok said, there were still different groups of people who could not participate in everyday life equally. That makes the legislation and the amendments all the more important. The four ordinances met with strong resistance in some quarters when they were first proposed. Today, few people would object to such statutory safeguards. The task ahead is to build on our foundations and improve further .