- Comments by Ricky Chu, chairman of the EOC, have 'categorised everyone as one group,' says Hong Kong’s first ethnic minority social worker
- Chu described child marriages as an ethnic minority cultural issue
Some members of the ethnic minority community have accused the head of Hong Kong’s equality watchdog of making “careless, stigmatising” remarks while making comments about ethnic minority women and the struggles they face in their integration into Hong Kong society.
In a discussion about the obstacles faced by members of ethnic minority groups, Ricky Chu Man-kin, chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), said, “Many [ethnic minority] families will send their girls back to their home countries to marry … at something like the age of 12 or slightly older. When they come back to Hong Kong they are already adults and have missed this golden six years in mingling with local society, posing lifelong difficulties for themselves … and these are cultural issues we need to overcome.”
The discussion took place on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21, and was hosted by local NGO Caritas.
Jeffrey Andrews, Hong Kong’s first ethnic minority social worker, said he was “shocked, upset and discouraged” by the comments made by Chu, and chose to “take action and email for an apology”.
Chu was “implying that all ethnic minorities bring their 12-year-old girls back to their home countries [to get married] and has categorised everyone as one group,” says Andrews.
Andrews’ email, which was signed by 53 ethnic minority professionals from Hong Kong, acknowledges that such incidents happen, but it is a “small minority”. The email also blames Chu for “implying that [ethnic minorities] are law breakers, as the legal age of marriage [in those countries] is 18 years old.”
In response, Chu clarified that his statement was made from an observation a local NGO shared with him, after he proposed that a community centre be set up in each of the 18 districts to organise cross-cultural activities connecting ethnic minority youth with their “Chinese counterparts”.
“The reference I made served to illustrate the impact of gendered and cultural norms, such as marriage and child-bearing related practices on social integration and access to education and employment for some ethnic minority youths,” said Chu. “It goes to show that even with the best intentions, a policy may not benefit all its target groups because of various entrenched barriers.”
Chu also said that his use of the term “ethnic minorities” in describing the girls was to “avoid labelling certain racial groups and be consistent to the discussion in point”.
Joy Pamnani, a 21-year-old student from the University of Hong Kong, acknowledges that some families have “conservative and traditional beliefs about girls getting married early.” However, she agrees with Andrews about Chu’s “stereotyping of the ethnic minority community”.
“One discussion with an NGO shouldn’t be the basis of generalising the most important issues in the ethnic minority community,” says Pamnani.
Andrews’ requests for further discussion and dialogue with Chu have not been successful. Chu says that the EOC’s Ethnic Minorities Unit will “continue working to facilitate the integration of ethnic minorities into mainstream society”.
“If he was [a member of] the general public, that would still be forgivable,” says Andrews. “But as the EOC chair, it is a faux pas that would only cause more of our younger generation of the ethnic minority community to not make reports to them when they face racism.”