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Human rights

Central database on Hong Kong’s under-18s under consideration, minister announces

  • Law Chi-kwong says compiling figures could help policymaking and setting priorities for child policy
  • But it will not be launched until 2021 at the earliest
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 January, 2019, 4:09pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 January, 2019, 10:32pm

Action on youth issues such as child abuse and child poverty in Hong Kong could be set for a shot in the arm after the welfare chief announced he was looking into making a central database on the city’s about 1 million under-18s.

But it would only come as early as in 2021 after a consultancy study, prompting children’s rights advocates to urge departments to release data currently held.

The database would pull together child-related statistics, existing or new, across departments. It is intended to help policymakers and NGOs, by letting them cross-reference different sets of data from departments.

The welfare minister Law Chi-kwong wrote on his blog on Sunday that, in principle, compiling figures could help policymaking and setting priorities for child policy, but warned that the task’s scale and complexity could bring challenges.

He raised Britain’s attempt in 2003 to push for a database on children, called ContactPoint, which was eventually shelved because of privacy concerns. He also cited Hong Kong’s digitisation of medical records, which needed seven years of study and law drafting before the system came in.

At a work meeting earlier this month, the government-appointed Commission on Children agreed that setting up the database would be a priority.

The commission would appoint a consultant in the third quarter of this year to conduct an 18-month study on integrating figures held by different departments.

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Billy Wong Wai-yuk, executive secretary of pressure group the Hong Kong Committee on Children’s Rights, said having the relevant numbers would be first step to understanding children’s needs, but they were often kept by separate government bodies or not documented.

She raised the example of the Drug Advisory Committee, which keeps breakdowns of drug users by age, drugs of choice and home district, while no one keeps track of whether they have children.

Priscilla Lui Tsang Sun-kai, a member of the commission and a children’s rights expert, said Law had put too much emphasis on the potential problems of the database. She said developed countries like Australia and Sweden had already set up their own.

“The government should lay down a clear direction and emphasise the importance of the database. But we have not seen that,” Lui said. “The study should not be a feasibility study, but should start developing and building the database.”

She also said the government could release more currently held data for more accurate analysis.

Gary Wong Chi-him, another commission member, said 18 months for the study would be too long to wait for action on pressing issues like child abuse or child poverty. He suggested police, health, education and welfare departments could release parts of the data before the study is finished.

“This data is not new. It was just held by government departments without being effectively used for cross-cutting issues,” he said.