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LCQ20: Assistance for children from disadvantaged background

     Following is a question by the Hon Emily Lau and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (February 24):

Question :

     In 2005, after consideration of the report of the Hong Kong SAR under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (the Convention), the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (the Committee) announced its concluding observations with a number of recommendations.  Paragraphs 72 and 74 of the concluding observations pointed out that "the Committee remains concerned at the existence of child poverty among vulnerable populations such as the unemployed, immigrants and single parent families", and recommended the Hong Kong SAR to "establish a poverty line and develop appropriate policies to combat child poverty which addresses widening income disparities while expanding access to social welfare benefits to all vulnerable populations including new immigrants".  Regarding the implementation of the Convention and the recommendations in the concluding observations, will the Executive Authorities inform this Council:

(a) of the recommendations in the concluding observations which have still not been accepted or implemented by the authorities to date; the reasons for such recommendations not being accepted or implemented; whether the authorities will give an account in this respect in their next report to be submitted to the Committee; and

(b) of the respective numbers of children (i.e. persons aged below 18, as defined in the Convention) living in poor families and receiving Comprehensive Social Security Assistance payments between 2005 and 2009; given that the Commission on Poverty had made various recommendations on child and youth poverty problems, which of such recommendations have still not been implemented to date?

Reply :


     Assisting children and youth from a disadvantaged background has all along been a key aspect of the Government's poverty alleviation work.  The Government's strategy is to address their specific needs and invest heavily in education and child development to increase social mobility and reduce inter-generational poverty.  At the same time, through providing training and retraining to young people, we seek to enhance their skills and competitiveness.

     My reply to the two parts of the question is as follows:

(a) The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government has been proactively implementing the recommendations of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child ("the Committee").  At present, the Government provides financial support to help needy families meet their basic needs through the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme.  The Government also provides a wide range of free or highly subsidised services in various areas, including social welfare, education, health care, housing, etc.  In 2009-10, the Government's recurrent public expenditure in the policy areas of social welfare, education, health care and housing is expected to reach $139.1 billion, representing 57.6% of the total recurrent public expenditure.

     In recent years, the Government has introduced various new measures to address the needs of children and youth from a disadvantaged background.  They include:

(i) The Government has implemented the School-based After-school Learning and Support (SALS) Programmes since 2005 to provide disadvantaged students with more opportunities to participate in after-school activities.  The aim is to increase their learning effectiveness, broaden their learning experiences outside the classroom, and help them achieve a better understanding of, and develop a stronger sense of belonging towards, the community.

(ii) Since 2005, the Government has launched in phases the pilot Comprehensive Child Development Service (CCDS) in four districts, namely, Sham Shui Po, Tin Shui Wai, Tuen Mun and Tseung Kwan O.  Through cross-sectoral collaboration, the physical and mental development problems of children aged 0 to 5 are identified and addressed as early as possible, with a view to reducing inter-generational poverty.  CCDS has now been extended to other districts including Tung Chung, Yuen Long, Kwun Tong, Tsuen Wan and Kwai Tsing.

(iii) The Government has launched the Pre-primary Education Voucher Scheme since the 2007-08 school year, and has offered 12-year free education starting from the 2008-09 school year.  The Education Bureau also provides newly-arrived students (covering students aged up to 18) with school placement and support services, such as the full-time Initiation Programme and the Induction Programme, to help them integrate into the community and the local education system.

(iv) The Government set up the $300 million Child Development Fund (CDF) to support the long-term development of children from a disadvantaged background.  The first batch of pioneer projects funded by CDF was launched in December 2008, benefiting a total of 750 children.  We will provide an addition 1,500 places in the first half of this year.  We expect that CDF will eventually benefit 13,600 disadvantaged children.

(v) The Social Welfare Department subsidises non-governmental organisations to provide diversified child care services for parents who cannot take care of their children temporarily because of work or other reasons.  Fee subsidy or waiver is available to help families encountering financial difficulties.

(vi) Since September 2009, the Labour Department has enhanced and integrated the Youth Pre-employment Training Programme and the Youth Work Experience and Training Scheme to provide young people aged 15 to 24 with educational attainment at sub-degree level or below with comprehensive pre-employment and on-the-job training, as well as employment assistance.  Besides, the Employees Retraining Board has collaborated with the Vocational Training Council to provide vocational training and foundation skills training under the pilot Youth Training Programme for non-engaged youths aged 15 to 20, and help trainees secure employment or refer them for further study upon completion of the courses.  

     As regards the Committee's recommendation of establishing a poverty line, the former Commission on Poverty (CoP) had deliberated fully the issue and took the view that in an affluent city like Hong Kong, poverty could not be understood simply by the concept of absolute poverty or the lack of ability to afford minimum subsistence, nor could we rely upon a single poverty line to measure income poverty.  We must take into consideration the actual situation and needs of the poor and their families, including their access to essential services and opportunities such as housing, health care, education and employment, etc.

     The Government agrees with CoP, and hence has not adopted a single poverty line for Hong Kong.  Rather, we have been adopting a set of 24 multi-dimensional poverty indicators that CoP recommended for examining the overall poverty situation in Hong Kong from different perspectives and understanding the needs of different social groups, including children and youth, working people and the elderly, as well as people in different districts.  These indicators provide a basis for the formulation and evaluation of policies to assist the needy.

     We will report to the Committee the progress of Hong Kong's work in assisting children from a disadvantaged background in the second report on the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

(b) With reference to the indicators adopted by CoP, the number of persons aged below 18 living in households with income below average CSSA payment from 2005 to 2009 is as follows:

Year                    Number of persons
----                       ------------------
2005                             255,500
2006                             227,400
2007                             201,900
2008                             180,600
2009 (January to September)      208,800

Source: General Household Survey, Census and Statistics Department

     The number of CSSA recipients aged below 18 from 2005 to 2009 is as follows:

Year               Number of persons
----               ------------------
2005 year-end          151,865
2006 year-end          141,962
2007 year-end          129,782
2008 year-end          120,265
2009 year-end          119,336

Source: Social Welfare Department

     It is worth noting that while some people living in households with income below average CSSA payment do not receive CSSA, they can still enjoy a wide range of free or highly subsidised services provided by the Government in various areas, including housing, education, health care and social welfare.

     After CoP concluded its work in 2007, the Government set up the inter-departmental Task Force on Poverty, headed by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, to follow up on all CoP's recommendations and coordinate the Government's efforts on alleviating poverty.  Among the 53 recommendations made by CoP, all the 12 recommendations relating to children and youth (e.g. setting up CDF, extending CCDS, launching the Special Training and Enhancement Programme to assist hard-core unemployed youth on CSSA, etc) have been implemented.

Ends/Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Issued at HKT 15:20


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