Pupils living in Shenzhen face four-hour commute to Hong Kong schools
Given its title, you would expect the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) to safeguard the core values of Hong Kong and offer protection to members of society against all kinds of discrimination. The reality, as it turns out, is far from this ideal.
Recently, it came to my attention that the Education Bureau has treated Primary One applicants living in Shenzhen in a different way from their counterparts living in Hong Kong.
While the applicants living within the school catchment areas can go to schools near their homes, children in Shenzhen are often assigned to schools far from the border checkpoints and face a commute of three to four hours every day.
In response to my inquiry, the bureau confirmed that it tried to guarantee school places for local applicants at the expense of applicants living in Shenzhen.
To fight the inequality in the bureau’s policy, I lodged a complaint with the EOC, hoping that it could right this wrong. Unfortunately, it refused to process my complaint on the grounds that the case does not fall into the domains of the four statutes, namely, the Sex Discrimination, Disability Discrimination, Family Status Discrimination, and Race Discrimination ordinances.
The confinement of the EOC’s responsibilities within the four ordinances has severely undermined its ability to fight against discrimination and protect human rights in Hong Kong.
During the Public Consultation on the Discrimination Law Review in 2014, the Centre for Comparative and Public Law of the University of Hong Kong pointed out that, under the four ordinances, the EOC could not address a range of discrimination cases related to characteristics such as sexual orientation, gender identity, age, religion, and immigrant status.
The HKU legal scholars said that the Hong Kong government should transform the EOC into a human rights commission to comply with Hong Kong’s international human rights obligations.
In 2001, the EOC won a judicial review case against the director of education for systematic sex discrimination within the secondary school places allocation programme.
The EOC’s inaction over the similarly systematic discrimination within the Primary One admission programme underscores the urgent need to reform the EOC. This is essential in order to hold the Education Bureau accountable for its unfair policy and to protect the fundamental rights of all Hong Kong residents.
Simon Wang, Kowloon Tong