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Government welcomes concluding observations made by UN Committee on CEDAW

     A spokesperson for the Labour and Welfare Bureau said today (November 14) that the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has issued its Concluding Observations on the third report of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), which formed part of the combined seventh and eighth periodic reports of the People's Republic of China (PRC), under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

     On October 14, 1996, CEDAW was extended to Hong Kong, at the consent of the PRC and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. CEDAW has continued to apply to the HKSAR (with the PRC as the relevant State Party) with effect from July 1, 1997. The HKSAR has been implementing CEDAW through the provisions of the Basic Law and local laws, complemented and supplemented by the necessary administrative measures.

     "We note that the Committee appreciates that the PRC as the State Party submitted its combined seventh and eighth periodic reports, including the HKSAR's third report, which followed the Committee's guidelines. The Committee also appreciates the written replies to the list of issues and questions, and welcomes the oral presentation of the delegation and the further clarification provided in response to the questions posed orally by the Committee during the dialogue at its Consideration Meeting held in Geneva, Switzerland, on October 23 (Geneva time)," the spokesperson said.

     The delegation comprised, among others, a team of nine representatives from the HKSAR headed by the Permanent Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Miss Annie Tam. The delegation attended the 59th session of the Committee in Geneva on October 23, during which the Committee considered, among others, the HKSAR's third report. The Concluding Observations were published on November 7 (Geneva time).

     "In its Concluding Observations, the Committee has commented and made recommendations on a number of areas, which the HKSAR Government will conscientiously consider and positively respond to as far as practicable, duly taking into account the local circumstances," the spokesperson said. These areas and the HKSAR Government's positions are briefly described as follows.

Reservations and Declarations

     The Committee expressed the view that consideration should be given to withdrawing the PRC's reservation to article 11(2) of CEDAW which is applicable to the HKSAR and to reviewing its interpretative declarations with a view to ensuring that they are compatible with the object and purpose of CEDAW. The spokesperson said, "The Permanent Secretary for Labour and Welfare, when attending the Committee's Consideration Meeting on October 23, reassured the Committee that the HKSAR Government remains fully committed to implementing the provisions of CEDAW as applied to the HKSAR.

     "The PRC has entered seven reservations and declarations on behalf of the HKSAR in the light of the special circumstances in Hong Kong. Justifications for the continuation have been provided to the Committee. The reservation in respect of article 11(2) reserves the right to apply any non-discriminatory requirement for a qualifying period of employment for the application of the provisions contained in that article. We consider that the existing requirement of a continuous contract for entitlements to maternity leave and maternity leave pay is necessary, taking into account the need to strike a balance between the interests of employers and employees."

Machinery for the Advancement of Women

     In response to the Committee's recommendation to strengthen the mandate of the Women's Commission (WoC) by, inter alia, providing adequate financial and human resources, the spokesperson said, "The WoC was set up by the HKSAR Government as a high-level central mechanism to promote the well-being and interests of women in Hong Kong. The WoC has been effectively driving its mission to enable women in Hong Kong to fully realise their due status, rights and opportunities in all aspects of life. In discharging its duties, the WoC has been active in advising the Government on the development of appropriate policies and initiatives, identifying priority areas for action, engaging in surveys and research studies and maintaining close ties with local and international women's groups and service agencies, etc. The WoC has been provided with funding to implement its programmes and is served by a team of staff in the Labour and Welfare Bureau."

Violence against Women

     In response to the Committee's concern about the progress of legislative reform on sexual offences, the spokesperson explained, "There are existing laws in Hong Kong that protect adults as well as children and mentally incapacitated persons from sexual assault. The Law Reform Commission (LRC) is conducting a comprehensive review on sexual offences in accordance with the guiding principles of respect for sexual autonomy, the protective principle, gender neutrality and avoidance of distinctions based on sexual orientation, as well as ways to reform the relevant law in a co-ordinated and comprehensive manner. The LRC's review is still under way. The Government will follow up when recommendations by the LRC are available."

     On the Committee's recommendation to allocate adequate resources to ensure the effective combat of all forms of violence against women by, inter alia, providing adequate shelters and enforcing protection orders, the spokesperson said, "This is the practice being adopted in Hong Kong. The Government has been allocating adequate resources to effectively combat all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence. Through a multi-disciplinary and three-pronged approach (namely preventive, supportive and specialised services), the Government has been making continuous effort to combat domestic violence and strengthen support for the victims and their families. We have been duly providing shelters and enforcing protection orders."

Trafficking and Exploitation in Regard to Prostitution

     "The Committee has commented on the non-applicability of the Palermo Protocol to the HKSAR. We would like to reaffirm that the HKSAR Government attaches great importance to combating human trafficking with the unfailing commitment of its law enforcement agencies, the comprehensive legislative framework and ongoing dialogues with relevant consulates, counterparts and non-governmental organisations. It will continue to initiate and strengthen diversified anti-human trafficking measures and provide various forms of support and assistance to victims of trafficking. The existing legislation generally covers all the criminal offences as envisaged in the Palermo Protocol," the spokesperson said.

     The spokesperson further said, "Under the existing laws in Hong Kong, the act of prostitution itself is not illegal. The various prostitution-related offences under the Crimes Ordinance (Cap. 200) seek to prevent the exploitation of others for the purposes of prostitution, combat organised prostitution activities and lessen the nuisance to members of the public that vice activities may cause."

Participation in Political and Public Life

     On the Committee's concern about the low-level representation of women in politics, including in functional constituencies, the spokesperson said, "Women and men enjoy the same rights to vote and to stand for elections, including elections of the functional constituencies of the Legislative Council. This right is safeguarded by the Basic Law. The legislation governing the qualification of candidates in functional constituencies does not have any differential treatment on the grounds of gender. The HKSAR Government will continue its efforts in ensuring that elections are conducted openly, fairly and honestly at all times."


     The Committee expressed concern at reports that women and girls with disabilities, particularly those with intellectual disabilities, had limited access to education. In response, the spokesperson said, "Hong Kong has universal education for all young people including those with intellectual disabilities and other kinds of disabilities for up to 12 years of free and compulsory education. The Government is planning to extend the universal education to 15 years to include pre-school age children. Among the 60 special schools in Hong Kong serving students of different disabilities, 41 are for students with intellectual disabilities. There is no sex discrimination in education, and male and female students have the same education opportunities."


     Turning to the Committee's recommendation of increasing the maternity leave period and promoting the use of flexible working arrangements and paternity leave, the spokesperson said, "The Employment Ordinance provisions on maternity protection, including the duration of maternity leave, have afforded comprehensive protection to pregnant employees and have struck a reasonable balance between the interests of employers and employees. In assessing whether amendments should be made to the duration of maternity leave, we have to take into consideration our socio-economic situation and whether there is consensus in the community.

     "The HKSAR Government has all along been encouraging employers to implement family-friendly employment practices, including flexible working arrangements, to help employees balance their roles and responsibilities in work and family. We have also introduced the Employment (Amendment) Bill 2014 into the Legislative Council to make paternity leave a statutory benefit for eligible male employees in Hong Kong. We hope that the Bill will soon be passed by the Legislative Council."

Women Domestic Workers

     The spokesperson observed that the Committee was concerned over reports that foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) were experiencing discrimination on the basis of their sex and/or gender and ethnic backgrounds, and that FDHs were subjected to lower wages, fewer holidays and longer working hours than what was prescribed by law, abuse by recruitment and placement agencies, the "two-week rule" and the "live-in rule". The spokesperson noted that the Permanent Secretary for Labour and Welfare had covered these aspects in her oral presentation when attending the Consideration Meeting. The spokesperson reaffirmed that the Government attaches great importance to protecting the rights of FDHs in Hong Kong. "FDHs, like local employees, enjoy equal and full protection and entitlements under Hong Kong labour laws such as a weekly rest day, statutory holidays and annual leave. FDHs also enjoy additional protection under the Standard Employment Contract including the Minimum Allowable Wage, free accommodation, free food (or a food allowance), free medical benefits, free passage to and from their places of domicile and more," the spokesperson said.

     "The Government will not tolerate any illegal acts of employers and employment agencies (EAs), and will take stringent enforcement and prosecution action against any malpractice. If an FDH is involved in labour or monetary disputes and has to attend hearings at a tribunal, or if he or she has been criminally intimidated or abused and is required to remain in Hong Kong for reasons such as assisting in an investigation or acting as a witness, after the termination or expiry of his or her contract, the Immigration Department (ImmD) may, based on individual merits, exercise discretion to allow him or her to extend his or her stay in Hong Kong as a visitor. The ImmD will render assistance to those who have been abused or exploited as appropriate and will, depending on the circumstances, refer such cases to relevant government departments for follow-up. These records will be kept and taken into account by the ImmD in considering any future applications for employment of FDHs by the employers.

     "The importation of FDHs has been allowed to meet the acute and long-standing shortage of full-time live-in domestic helpers in the local labour market. Any change to the requirement that FDHs must reside in employers' residences (the 'live-in' requirement) will go against the rationale for importing FDHs and the fundamental policy that local employees should enjoy priority in employment.

     "FDHs are required to leave Hong Kong upon completion of their contract or within 14 days from the date of termination of their contract, whichever is earlier (the 'two-week rule'). This 'two-week rule' is essential for maintaining effective immigration control and helps prevent FDHs from changing employers frequently or taking up illegal work in Hong Kong after contract termination. The main purpose of the 'two-week rule' is to allow sufficient time for FDHs to prepare for their departure; it is not to assist them to find new employers. The policy does not preclude FDHs from applying to work in Hong Kong again after returning to their places of origin and has allowed sufficient flexibility to cater for exceptional circumstances."

     The spokesperson added, "To better safeguard FDHs' rights, the Government has already stepped up publicity and promotional efforts through various channels with a view to enhancing FDHs' awareness of their rights and benefits and the means of seeking assistance. The Government has also strengthened its collaboration with the consulates of the major exporting countries in Hong Kong. Furthermore, to strengthen the regulation over EAs, the Government has increased the inspection frequency at EAs and will consider issuing a Code of Practice for the industry."

Marriage and Family Relations

     "The Committee calls upon the HKSAR to expedite the adoption of a law to raise the minimum marriage age to 18 years old," the spokesperson said.  "The LRC has published a series of reports on children's rights and parental responsibilities, including recommendations regarding the minimum marriage age. In particular, the LRC has recommended the retention of 16 as the minimum age of marriage with parental consent, and the reduction of the minimum age of marriage without parental consent from 21 to 18 years. A legislative amendment is under review to reduce the minimum age of marriage without parental consent from 21 to 18 years as per the LRC's recommendation."

Multiple Forms of Discrimination

     In response to the Committee's recommendation to intensify the HKSAR Government's efforts to combat discrimination against lesbian, transsexual and transgender women, the spokesperson reaffirmed the Government's commitment to promoting equal opportunities for all and eliminating all forms of discrimination including discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.  "The Government has been promoting non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity through various public education and publicity activities. To better address the issue of discrimination faced by sexual minorities, the Government established the Advisory Group on Eliminating Discrimination against Sexual Minorities in June 2013 to provide advice on matters relating to concerns about discrimination faced by sexual minorities in Hong Kong, notably the aspects and extent of discrimination faced by sexual minorities in Hong Kong, and the strategies and measures to tackle the problems identified," the spokesperson said.

     The Committee has indicated that the PRC's next report under CEDAW is due in November 2018. It will contain, among others, the next (fourth) report submitted by the HKSAR Government which will set out its detailed response to the Committee's Concluding Observations.

     The spokesperson reaffirmed that the HKSAR Government will continue to further promote the realisation of womenˇ¦s due status, rights and opportunities in all aspects of life, in a continuing process of faithfully implementing CEDAW as applied to the HKSAR.

     The Committee's Concluding Observations will be uploaded to the Labour and Welfare Bureau's website at Copies will be made available to the judicial, legislative and administrative authorities.

Ends/Friday, November 14, 2014
Issued at HKT 14:22


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