Extra resources can make Children’s Bill work in Hong Kong
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) made a commitment to children: that we would do everything in our power to protect and promote their rights to survival, to reach their full potential and to make their voices heard.
The proposed “Children’s Bill”, based on the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission’s Report on Custody and Access in 2005, now up for public consultation, is in this direction. It represents a paradigm shift from emphasis on parents’ rights to children’s rights and their best interests, which in the past have often been given short shrift.
The bill stipulates that a child in the case of a divorce is entitled to retain contact with both parents and a child can apply for a court order for independent legal representation.
It would be preferable to have in place a clear procedure, accessible to the child, with an identifiable body or person responsible. Provision should be made for this, with qualified personnel and necessary funding.
While the essence of the bill is in line with international practices, we have major concerns about its implementation. A change of mindset does not happen overnight. There must be a thorough, well-designed plan of action and adequate resources to bring about the necessary reforms.
Families already in dispute facing sudden changes and uncertainties may encounter further struggles. If children end up being used as scapegoats, this will defeat the purpose of the bill. Cooperative co-parenting, where the family unit has broken down, is vital. Courts must be given the power to order the parents to undergo co-parenting education, and order support counselling for the child.
It is a shame it has taken the government 10 years to study the proposal for this bill. If this lengthy period had been used to educate and mobilise the community and solicit support from professionals in the areas of children’s rights, it would have helped pave the way for the changes.
To ensure effective implementation, the government must allocate additional resources in terms of venues, manpower and training. It must set clearer guidelines and a system for evaluation.
To facilitate community participation, especially children’s participation in matters impacting their life, guiding principles and best practices locally and overseas must be widely shared and the changes closely monitored.
Priscilla Lui Tsang Sun-kai, vice-chairperson, Hong Kong Committee on Children’s Rights