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Speech by SLW at International Child Protection Dinner (English only)

     Following is the speech by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, at the International Child Protection Dinner organised by the International Social Service Hong Kong Branch (ISSHK) tonight (May 7):

Mr Doug Lewis (International President of International Social Service's Governing Board), Mr CP Ho (Chairman of ISSHK), Mr Stephen Yau (Chief Executive of ISSHK), Consuls-General, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     Good evening. It gives me great pleasure to address such a high-powered audience comprising leaders from the business, financial, social services, diplomatic and government sectors. As the principal official of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government responsible for the labour and welfare policy portfolio for nearly eight years, I am honoured to join you all this evening and support the worthy cause of child protection.

     Let me begin by paying warm tribute to tonight's host, the International Social Service Hong Kong Branch (in short, ISSHK). Founded in 1958, ISSHK shares the broader ISS' values in upholding neutrality across racial, religious and political contexts. It is with these core values that the ISSHK is best placed to assist individuals and families facing problems which require inter-country solutions and collaboration. For over 50 years, the ISSHK has helped reunite thousands of separated families through its cross-boundary or inter-country casework services. To all intents and purposes, it is the cement that binds many families together.

     From its professional services rendered to the very young, the aged, ethnic minorities, new arrivals, asylum seekers and torture-claimants, the ISS has worked in concert with the Hong Kong Special Admisistrative Region (SAR) Government in caring for the needy irrespective of their age, gender, socio-economic status, cultural, ethnic and national origins. Over the years, I have had the chance of meeting families and children served by the ISSHK and understood at first hand the challenges faced by them. What strikes me the most is the level of care that the ISSHK delivers to people under its care and protection. The ISSHK has done an outstanding job as a first-class non-governmental organisation providing a wide spectrum of humanitarian work, which literally knows no boundaries of any kind.

     In safeguarding the interests of children, the ISSHK has been a staunch partner of my Social Welfare Department in offering adoption programmes, foster care programmes and small-group homes. It also operates two integrated family service centres at the community level in two districts with many low-income families (i.e. Sham Shui Po South and Tin Shui Wai North). These speak volumes about the ISSHK's sterling efforts and dedication in helping children to be where they belong - in a loving family environment. It is pertinent to note that the ISSHK is acting as the agent of the Social Welfare Department in administering the Old Age Allowance Scheme for elderly Hong Kong residents choosing to live in Guangdong province on the Mainland.

     The Hong Kong SAR Government is committed to building a caring and fair society for all. Of the Government's recurrent expenditure for 2015-16, almost 60 per cent will be channelled to the three major livelihood areas of education, social welfare and medical and health services. Recurrent expenditure on welfare will reach HK$59.7 billion, second only to education, and accounting for 18.4 per cent of the total. Education accounts for 22 per cent (HK$71.4 billion) while medical and health services take up 16.8 per cent (HK$54.5 billion).

     Children are the future of our society. Through promoting a culture of multi-faceted excellence and upward social mobility, the Government aims at building an environment whereby young people, regardless of their interests, abilities and family background, can develop their potential to the full.

     To enhance the longer-term development of disadvantaged children and reduce intergenerational poverty, a HK$300-million Child Development Fund (CDF) was set up by my (Labour and Welfare) Bureau in 2008. Over the years, CDF projects have benefitted almost 7 000 children, including ethnic minorities, children with disabilities and those living in tiny cubicle apartments. To boost the Fund's capacity and ensure its sustainability, the Government will inject an additional HK$300 million to the Fund and this will benefit another 9 700 new participants.

     Another new and major policy initiative which my Bureau will roll out in a year's time to tackle child poverty is the Low-Income Working Family Allowance (LIFA). This pro-children LIFA scheme is also pro-employment. It seeks to encourage self-reliance and hard work. Eligible working families will be given a basic allowance tied to employment and working hours. Families with eligible children and young members will receive an additional allowance to promote inter-generational upward social mobility. The total allowance amount to be paid under the Scheme is estimated at a hefty HK$3 billion per year and should benefit over 200 000 low-income households, involving over 710 000 people including 170 000 children.

     What is more, we will inject HK$200 million of dedicated funding to the Partnership Fund for the Disadvantaged (PFD) run by the Social Welfare Department to provide more after school whole-person learning and support programmes for primary and secondary school students from grassroots families. Under the PFD, donations from the business sector to support non-governmental organisations operating welfare projects for the disadvantaged are matched, dollar for dollar, by Government grants. Since the establishment of the PFD in 2005, this tripartite model has attracted donations from 1 120 business partners, totalling more than HK$319 million, and benefitting over one million disadvantaged persons.

     The International Child Protection Dinner tonight is to raise funds for the ISSHK's unique service to assist and protect children and families who have become separated across international borders through no fault of their own. While globalisation brings us to an unprecedented level of inter-connectedness and convenience, it has not proved to be a success story for all. Conflict, human trafficking, abduction, migration or divorce are but some of the problems related to cross-border population movements. Children on the move are particularly at risk and tend to suffer the most. The ISSHK, through its international child protection service, employs world-class social workers who handle inter-country casework and make recommendations to family courts around the world. With its reputable and unique expertise in this field, the ISSHK is very well placed to aid children and families across borders.

     More importantly, this vital cross-border work of the ISSHK is funded entirely through charitable donations. For this very reason, ladies and gentlemen, your generous support tonight is essential to help sustain and strengthen the International Child Protection service so that more children at-risk can grow up and thrive in a proper, safe, healthy environment.

     On this note, I wish this dinner a huge success and all of you a delightful and memorable evening. Thank you.

Ends/Thursday, May 7, 2015
Issued at HKT 20:30


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