LCQ5: Domestic violence and women's political participation

     Following is a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, to a question by the Hon Emily Lau in the Legislative Council today (November 4):


     In 2006, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women ("the Committee") conducted a hearing on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and put forward comments and recommendations, including concern at the low prosecution rate of domestic violence, recommendation for improving gender-sensitivity training for judicial and law enforcement officials, and concern at the low level of representation of women in the functional constituencies of the Legislative Council, which may constitute indirect discrimination against women.  In this connection, will the Executive Authorities inform this Council:

(a) of the respective numbers of cases seeking assistance, which involved domestic violence, received by the Social Welfare Department and the Integrated Family Service Centres of non-governmental organisations, as well as the respective numbers of reports received and prosecutions instituted by the Police, which involved domestic violence, in the past three years; whether they have studied the reasons for the differences between the figures; if they have, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(b) whether they have provided gender-sensitivity training for judicial and law enforcement officials since 2006; if they have, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(c) given the Committee's comment that "the electoral system of functional constituencies may constitute indirect discrimination against women", what improvement measures the Government had taken to address this concern?



(a) Statistics on cases concerning domestic violence (DV) collected by the Social Welfare Department (SWD), the Integrated Family Service Centres (IFSCs) operated by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the Police in 2006, 2007 and 2008 are set out at Annex.

     According to the statistics collected by SWD and the Police respectively, the first half of 2009 saw a downward trend in the overall number of DV cases.  Comparing with the figures in the first half of 2008, the statistics compiled by SWD show that the overall number of DV cases in the first half of 2009 dropped by nearly 10%, whereas the figures collected by the Police show a drop of nearly 30%.

     On the statistics collated by the Police, the DV cases handled by the Police include crime cases and miscellaneous cases. Miscellaneous cases include in general incidents of dispute, common assaults, and request for police assistance or investigation, etc. that involve breach of peace.  The Police would handle and investigate all reports of DV cases.  Depending on the circumstances of and evidence shown in individual cases, the Police will decide whether to initiate prosecution action.  As DV cases are commonly "one-on-one" cases involving the victim and the abuser only, the Police may encounter difficulty in verifying the testimonies of both parties in the absence of other witnesses.  If, for various reasons, the victim declines to provide further information or testify against the abuser, it would be difficult for the Police to initiate prosecution against the abuser despite the existence of medical reports or other circumstantial evidence.

     The Police received and handled 1,811, 2,505 and 2,341 DV crime cases in 2006, 2007 and 2008 respectively. Of these crime cases, 1,408, 2,199 and 2,060 were dealt with by the Court in the respective years, accounting for 77.7%, 87.8% and 88% of the total number of DV crime cases reported to the Police during the respective periods.  As regards DV miscellaneous cases, there were 760, 1,690 and 1,637 cases involving common assaults in 2006, 2007 and 2008 respectively. Of these common assaults cases, 463, 1,220 and 1,330 were dealt with by the Court, accounting for 60.9%, 72.2% and 81.7% of the total number of DV common assault cases reported to the Police respectively.

     Given the different statistical definitions and basis adopted by SWD and the Police, there are naturally differences between the statistics captured by the two departments.  First, the Police record the number of cases according to the number of reported abuse incidents, regardless of whether the incidents involve the same victim; whereas the central system of SWD records the number of abuse cases on the basis of individual victim.  For example, if there are two reported DV incidents concerning the same victim within a couple of months, the Police will count it as two cases while the central system of SWD will record it as one case.

     In addition, the number of child abuse cases recorded by the Police is collected based on the statutory definition of the "Crimes Against Children".  It includes all crimes against children, irrespective of the relationships between the victims and the offenders.  SWD, on the other hand, captures child abuse cases committed by individuals who, because of their specific identities, e.g., in terms of age, status, knowledge, organisational form, are in a position of differential power that renders a child vulnerable.

     There are also some differences between the two departments as to what would constitute a recordable incident or case.  For example, SWD generally would not regard unlawful, voluntary sexual intercourse between children in a couple relationship as a child abuse case.  In contrast, the Police would, irrespective of the relationship between the victim and the abuser, record the incident in its statistics as it constitutes a criminal offence.

(b) On training, the Judicial Studies Board provides training programmes for judges and judicial officers (JJOs) at all levels.  According to the information provided by the Judiciary, the Board organises and coordinates JJOs' participation in various professional training courses, international/local conferences, seminars and visits every year.  In June and December 2007, experience-sharing sessions on dealing with DV cases and related issues were organised.  As part of its on-going efforts to update JJOs on issues of public concern, new legislation and crime trends, the Judiciary will continue to organise suitable training programmes for JJOs.

     In tandem, the Police have, over the years, strengthened its training programmes so as to enhance the capability of police officers in handling and investigating DV cases, with particular focus on risk assessment, questioning techniques, conflict management, sensitivity and awareness of family dynamics, and victim psychology, etc.  Whenever laws are enacted or amended, the Police will consider to strengthen the relevant handling procedures and the provision of relevant training to frontline officers.  In light of further amendments to the Domestic Violence Ordinance to extend protection to same-sex cohabitants, the Police are actively considering the provision of relevant training so as to enhance the sensitivity of the police officers in handling DV cases.

     In addition, the Government has been providing training for civil servants to enhance their knowledge on gender issues and gender sensitivity in daily work.  Apart from classroom training, we are planning to launch a set of gender-related online training programme. The programme is scheduled to be uploaded onto a web-portal on gender mainstreaming in early 2010 for reference of all civil servants.

(c) In respect of women's representation in politics, the current electoral system does not contain structural obstacles to women's equal political participation.  In Hong Kong, women and men enjoy the same right to vote as well as to stand for election.  This right is safeguarded by the Basic Law.  It is a gross simplification to say that the Functional Constituencies (FCs) are dominated by business organisations and professional bodies.  The constituencies represent substantial and important sectors of the community, such as education, labour, social welfare, health care, and so on, in addition to businesses.  The electorate of the 28 FCs is delineated in accordance with a set of clearly established criteria.  

     Indeed, in the current Legislative Council (LegCo) term , there are 11 female LegCo Members.  Four of them were returned from the FC elections and seven from the Geographical Constituencies.  There is no evidence that the FC elections have disadvantaged female candidates.

Ends/Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Issued at HKT 16:07