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FS speaks at Child Development Forum (English only)

    Following is the speech by the Financial Secretary, Mr Henry Tang, at the Child Development Forum this morning (November 10): (English only)

Dr Philemon Choi, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     Good morning. I am pleased to see such a distinguished gathering of representatives from NGOs, schools, academia, the business sector and policymakers. We are all here for one purpose: to explore ways to strengthen our efforts to promote the development of children, especially those from a disadvantaged background.  

Opportunity and mobility

     While financial strength is not always decisive, children from a disadvantaged background often face more challenges in achieving their full potential in life. I believe it is important to ensure that our society provides opportunities for all, regardless of whether their family background is disadvantaged or not, to succeed in life through dedication and sheer hard work.  

     In this regard, the Commission on Poverty is examining the trend of earnings mobility in Hong Kong, and for the first time, a study on intergenerational earnings mobility has been included. The preliminary findings show that 87% of children with fathers in the lowest earnings quintile group have actually moved up to higher earnings groups in their adult life. The survey results will be published and conveyed in the briefing session that Dr Choi will conduct afterwards. They are very interesting and I believe that it will shed light on how we prevent intergenerational poverty. It appears that there is some earnings mobility across generations and intergenerational poverty in Hong Kong is not as prevalent as many might think or perceive it to be.

     However, the remaining 13% still need to be taken care of. We should take the view that no one should be left behind. We should mobilise very effort we can to ensure that everyone, whether their background is disadvantaged or not, should have access to opportunities that others do. So there is no room for complacency. We are a very competitive society with an open and vibrant economy. Our next generation will certainly face keener competition not just locally, but also from the Mainland, neighbouring countries and from around the world - the result of globalisation. Children from a disadvantaged background may need to work doubly hard to succeed.  As we are transforming from an industrialised economy into a even more knowledge-based economy, we need to equip our children, especially those with a disadvantaged background, to face challenges in a rapidly changing world.  

     This is a tremendous task. The Government has been investing one-fourth of our total expenditure in education. And we will continue to invest heavily in other development opportunities to enhance the capacity of our children and their chances of upward socio-economic mobility. But education alone cannot resolve all problems. We will need your support and ideas on how we can further promote child development so that they can make the best use of the opportunities available in Hong Kong.

From income support to asset building

     There are proposals that the Government should set up a fund and give each child a sum of money, say a few thousand Hong Kong dollars, for individual development purposes. In this regard, I have sought assistance from Dr Choi and the Task Force on Children on Youth under the Commission on Poverty to examine the relevant overseas experience in implementing child development funds, and to see what lessons we can learn from other countries and places. The questions we are asking include: what is the purpose of the fund, and how the money is to be used?
     Today I am very glad that three prominent academics will share with us their experience of and insights into the asset-based approach to promote the development of young people and their families.  The asset-based approach is a relatively new, and not a very familiar concept in Hong Kong. While overseas experience may not be directly applicable to Hong Kong, I believe the approach, which emphasises asset building instead of income support, is definitely worth careful study, in particular with regard to helping children from disadvantaged backgrounds. In charting our way forward, we must also be aware of the limitations of simply providing income support without instilling the right attitudes and values in our younger generation.

     I understand that some local NGOs have also tried to use the asset-based approach to encourage proactive personal development and enhance self-learning abilities of the younger generation. In today's Forum, I am sure you will have useful exchanges on the essence of asset-based approach and its relevance to Hong Kong. I hope your discussions will generate ideas which could be put into action to improve our existing approaches and efforts in promoting child development in Hong Kong. This is indeed an initiative that we are seriously considering taking forward. In the concluding speech of my 2006/07 Budget in April, I pledged that we would seriously consider setting up this child development fund. But how we actually set up this fund and how this fund is to be used is exactly the purpose of conferences, meetings and discussions like we have today. We don't want to just dish out the money. That will be the easy way out. Because, after all, with the budget surplus, what are we going to do with the money? It will be easy to set up a fund to dish out money and make everybody happy. But this asset-based approach is something that we should seriously consider. Although it may be unfamiliar to Hong Kong right now, I think it will make a longer-term impact for us to prevent inter-generational poverty and to enhance development of children than just to give them instant gratification.

Child development and family support

     The theme of today's forum is "Strengthening Support to Children and Their Families". In Hong Kong, like in most other societies in the world, family is the foundation of our society, as well as an important institution to nurture children. In considering how best to promote child development, we should not simply focus on children, but should consider the needs and challenges of families.  

     We recognise that there are families which are earning a decent income but are still vulnerable and need additional support. Workless households, single-parent families, families with members who just arrived in Hong Kong, families with children with special needs, or families with two working parents all need our special attention. As an example of the Government's continual commitment to supporting the family, the Chief Executive announced in his Policy Address last month that the Government will consider setting up an integrated, holistic and high-level Family Commission. The Commission will be responsible for policies and initiatives relating to family support.  

Concluding remarks

     Nobody would question the importance of investing in the development of our children, for they are our future. But it is equally important to ensure that we are using the right approach and method so that our efforts will lead to positive results. Today's forum provides a good opportunity for the key stakeholders to reflect on the existing approach in promoting child development. This would pave the way for us to work together in the search for better ways to strengthen our support to children and their families, particularly those from a disadvantaged background. I look forward to hearing your ideas and views on this very important subject.

     Thank you very much.

Ends/Friday, November 10, 2006
Issued at HKT 15:52