Speech by SHA at UN hearing on HKSAR women's rights


The following is the full text of the speech by the Secretary of Home Affairs, Mr David Lan, at the hearing held by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in New York on Tuesday (February 2, New York time):

I am very much honoured to be here and wish to express my gratitude to the Chairperson and Ambassador Qin for giving me this opportunity to introduce to the Chairperson and members the Initial Report on the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

The year 1997 is remarkable for Hong Kong. The Government of the People's Republic of China resumed the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong with effect from 1 July 1997, and established a Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR). Under the principle of "one country, two systems", the socialist system and policies shall not be practised in the HKSAR; and the capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years.

Hong Kong sustains a good human rights record, and the human rights protection framework after the handover is considered to be even more profound. Article 4 of "The Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China", the constitutional document of the HKSAR, stipulates that the HKSAR shall safeguard the rights and freedoms of the residents of the HKSAR and of other persons in the Region in accordance with law. Chapter 3 of the Basic Law lists out the fundamental rights of the residents of the HKSAR, for example, article 25 provides that all Hong Kong residents shall be equal before the law; articles 26 to 28 provide that the Hong Kong residents shall have the right to vote and to stand for election in accordance with law. They shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration; and the freedom to form and join trade unions. The freedom of the person of Hong Kong residents shall be inviolable. Other articles provide that Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of religious belief, freedom of choice of occupation, and freedom to engage in academic research, literary and artistic creation. Their freedom of marriage and their right to raise a family freely are also protected. Hong Kong residents shall have the right to social welfare in accordance with law. The welfare benefits and retirement security of the labour force shall be protected by law.

In addition, article 39 of the Basic Law provides that the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as applied to Hong Kong shall remain in force, and shall be implemented through the laws of the HKSAR. The Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance and the provisions of all the United Nations human rights treaties applicable to Hong Kong shall continue to be implemented in the HKSAR after the handover.

Our spirit of the rule of law, our legal system and our truly independent judiciary contribute to the effective implementation of the protection provided by law. I would like to inform the Committee that the HKSAR has completed her first report on the implementation of the ICCPR. The report was submitted by the Permanent Mission of the People's Republic of China to the United Nations in Geneva on January 11, 1999 to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights for onward transmission to the Human Rights Committee. As you can see from the above, the freedom and rights of the HKSAR residents, be it men and women, are duly protected by law. The protection afforded to them has not been changed in any way after the handover.

The rights of women are also protected by other legislation of the HKSAR. The Sex Discrimination Ordinance, enacted in 1995, renders unlawful discrimination on the grounds of sex, marital status or pregnancy in specified areas of activity including employment, education, provision of goods, facilities, services and premises, activities of clubs and the Government. The Ordinance outlaws sexual harassment and discriminatory practices. Moreover, it is also unlawful to publish or cause to be published any advertisement which is discriminatory.

The Family Status Discrimination Ordinance came into operation in November 1997. It outlaws discrimination against persons who has family status in specified areas of activities similar to those covered under the Sex Discrimination Ordinance.

The Equal Opportunities Commission was established under the Sex Discrimination Ordinance on May 20, 1996. The Commission is an independent statutory organization which is tasked with the responsibility of eliminating discrimination and promoting equality of opportunities between men and women. It is responsible for enforcing the three anti-discrimination Ordinances, namely the Sex Discrimination Ordinance, the Family Status Discrimination Ordinance and the Disability Discrimination Ordinance. In accordance with these Ordinances, it is also tasked to handle complaints, conduct formal investigations, encourage conciliation between parties in dispute, provide assistance to aggrieved persons as well as launch public education and research programmes to promote the message of equal opportunities in the community. The Commission is also empowered to issue codes of practice to provide practical guidelines to facilitate public compliance with provisions of these Ordinances. So far, three Codes of Practice on Employment have been issued. The Equal Opportunities Commission has been established for more than 2 years now, with a subvention of more than HK$170 million (about US$22 million) from the Government of the HKSAR.

In order to eliminate any discriminatory or unfair treatment against women, the HKSAR Government has, after a review of all the legislation, enacted more than 20 amendments to 6 Ordinances during 1996-98. The HKSAR Government is committed to modify all the legislation which contain discriminatory provisions against women.

The position and status of women in Hong Kong have been improving. In 1997, women accounted for 39% of the total working population. Currently, 2 out of the 3 highest ranking government officials, namely the Chief Secretary for Administration who heads the civil service and the Secretary for Justice who takes charge of all the legal matters in the HKSAR, are women. Females make up 33% of the civil servants. As regards the Executive Council, almost one-third of its members are females. The proportion of women engaged in occupations which are traditionally dominated by males has risen gradually. For example, in the Police Force, 45.3% of the newly-recruited inspectors in 1998-99 are females. Also, there are at present 5 female Station Officers in the Fire Services Department who direct fire fighting work on the scene as their male counterparts do. As for professionals, females account for 34% of all our lawyers, 36.3% of accountants and 21.3% of doctors.

Education is a pre-requisite for the advancement of women's status. The HKSAR Government is committed to provide equal opportunities on education for both genders. Since 1976, all children aged 6 to 15, regardless of their sex, are entitled to receive nine years of free and universal basic education. Males and females have equal access to education in the HKSAR. In fact, in 1997, more than half of the university graduates are females.

The health of women in the HKSAR has always been accorded high priority. The Government offers a comprehensive range of promotive, preventive, curative and rehabilitation healthcare services for women of all ages. Apart from taking care of female babies, the 50 Maternal and Child Health Centres provide a range of promotive and preventive programmes as well as health services like antenatal, intrapartum, postnatal care and family planning for women of child-bearing age. The first Women Health Centre, which opened in 1994, provides health education, counselling and screening for women aged 45 or above. To date, there are 3 Women Health Centres providing services for women in the region of Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories. The infant mortality rate of Hong Kong remains amongst the lowest in the world. In 1997, the infant mortality rate is 4 per thousand live births while the maternal mortality rate is 2 per hundred thousand total births. In addition, life expectancy for female has reached an average of 82.2 years, which is much longer than 76.8 years of male.

The HKSAR Government is determined to adopt every possible measure to strive for women's welfare. The Policy Groups chaired by the Chief Secretary for Administration and attended by senior representatives of the policy bureaux concerned provide all the necessary coordination among various bureaux on all matters concerning women. The various bureaux and departments of the HKSAR Government have all along been working unfailingly for protecting women's welfare and rights. Besides, the establishment of the Equal Opportunities Commission also helps the elimination of discrimination against women. As such, the HKSAR has already had a well-established and comprehensive framework in place to handle all matters relating to women and the protection of their rights.

The Convention was extended to Hong Kong on 14 October 1996 and has remained in force since the reunification on 1 July 1997. The People's Republic of China has entered 7 reservations and declarations in respect of the provisions of the Convention as applied to Hong Kong. As these reservations and declarations are made in light of the special circumstances in Hong Kong, the HKSAR Government, after careful consideration, has decided not to make any changes at the moment. However, we will review the applicability of such reservations and declarations from time to time.

I would like to conclude my introduction on the HKSAR's report here. We shall be happy to answer any questions that you may have on the report. Your valuable opinions and advice can certainly help us in the full implementation of the Convention. Thank you.

END/Wednesday, February 3, 1999