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Speech by SLW at International Conference on Building a Better Future for Young People: Role of Positive Youth Development, Family and Community (English only)
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     Following is the speech by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, at the International Conference on Building a Better Future for Young People: The Role of Positive Youth Development, Family and Community today (May 12):

Professor Timothy Tong (President of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University); Mr Leong Cheung (Executive Director of Charities and Community, the Hong Kong Jockey Club); Professor Daniel Shek (Associate Vice President (Undergraduate Programme) and Chair Professor of Applied Social Sciences of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University), distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     It gives me great pleasure to open this prestigious two-day international conference which focuses on the highly important issue of positive and holistic youth development.

     This event also serves to conclude the decade-long, ground-breaking and highly impactful "PATHS to Adulthood" Project (Project PATHS) funded by the Hong Kong Jockey Club and co-organised by the Social Welfare Department, the Education Bureau and a very strong multi-disciplinary Research Team comprising academics from five universities in Hong Kong.

     Let me first pay a warm tribute to the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Professor Daniel Shek and the Conference Organising Committee for hosting this momentous event and bringing distinguished scholars from Florida and Kentucky in the United States to share their insights with us.

     My deep gratitude also goes to the cross-sectoral and multi-disciplinary Research Team, the 320 participating secondary schools with their 284 000 students, the various supporting organisations, community partners, Government bureaux and departments, as well as the many educators, social workers, frontline practitioners and parents who have worked hand in hand to make Project PATHS such an unqualified success.

     But this Project and this conference would never have been possible without the solid and substantial funding support from the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust, which has cumulatively granted a hefty $750 million to the Project since 2004. I salute the Hong Kong Jockey Club's generosity and concern for youth development. This is yet another shining example of the Jockey Club's sterling contribution to the social advancement of Hong Kong.

     As we all know, young people are our hope and the leaders of tomorrow. We must properly nurture them and give them ample room to develop and realise their potential.

     The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) Government attaches great importance to providing an environment conducive to the whole-person development of young people because human capital is Hong Kong's single most valuable asset. This explains why we have been investing heavily in education and we see this not as spending, but long-term investment for Hong Kong. It is important to note that expenditure on education for 2016-17 is estimated to reach $75 billion, accounting for a significant 21.5 per cent of the Government's total recurrent expenditure. This represents the lion's share of all policy areas and an increase of 70 per cent over the figure of 10 years ago, which speaks volumes about the Government's commitment to investing in educating our own young people.

     The current-term Government strives to build multiple pathways for our youths, strengthen family core values, enhance life-planning at the school and community level and promote upward social mobility. These goals coincide perfectly with the positive beliefs and values promoted by this conference and Project PATHS.

     The fact that Hong Kong, like many other developed economies in the world, is confronted with the dual challenges of an ageing population and a dwindling workforce, means that every single young person is an invaluable asset to our society. While the number of young people aged between 11 and 23 stood at a high of 1.16 million back in 1996, accounting for 18.5 per cent of the overall population, these figures dived to 923 000, accounting for 13.2 per cent in 2015. By 2024 - eight years from now - our youth population will continue to shrink to 841 000 or 11.4 per cent of the population, and then further down to 725 000 or only 9.7 per cent of the entire population by 2054. With our rapidly dwindling youth population, we simply cannot afford to, and must not, leave any youth behind - every one counts.

     Recognising that the family is the cornerstone of society and the cradle for young people's character formation, the Hong Kong SARí@Government leaves no stone unturned in enhancing family harmony, building a cohesive community and alleviating the social problems facing young people. To this end, the Family Council, a high-level cross-sectoral and cross-Bureau consultative body was formed in 2007 to advise the Government on family-related policies. The Council is currently chaired by Professor Daniel Shek, who is also the conference organiser. With effect from April 1, 2013, a mandatory assessment of family implications has been introduced for all Government policies. Government bureaux and departments are also encouraged to consult the Family Council on new policies which carry family implications.

     Throughout the years, the Family Council has dedicated itself to promoting the core values of Love and Care, Respect and Responsibility, and Communication and Harmony. These six cardinal principles are the essential ingredients for nurturing confident, positive, caring and resilient young people who can survive and thrive in the ever-changing and challenging world of today and tomorrow.

     The Hong Kong SAR Government is also committed to building a caring and fair society. Of the Government's recurrent expenditure for 2016-17, almost 60 per cent or $198 billion will be channelled to the three major livelihood areas of education, social welfare and medical and health services. Recurrent expenditure on social welfare will reach $66.2 billion, second only to education, and accounting for 19 per cent of the total, whilst medical and health service comes third, at $57 billion and accounting for 16.5 per cent.

     We are working doubly hard to enhance the longer-term development of disadvantaged children and reduce intergenerational poverty. Let me cite three prime examples.

     First, a $300-million Child Development Fund (CDF) was set up by my Bureau (Labour and Welfare) in 2008. Over the years, CDF projects, which are designed to enhance the self-confidence and resilience of children from disadvantaged background, have so far benefitted almost 10 000 children, including ethnic minorities, children with disabilities and those living in poverty. To boost the Fund's capacity and ensure its sustainability, the Government has injected an additional $300 million to the Fund and this will benefit another 10 000 new participants.

     Another new and major policy initiative which my Bureau has just rolled out eight days ago to tackle child poverty is the Low-Income Working Family Allowance. This pro-children scheme is also pro-employment. It seeks to encourage self-reliance and reward 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 $2.9 billion in this financial year and should benefit over 200 000 low-income households, involving over 700 000 people including 170 000 children.

     What is more, the current-term Government also injected $200 million of dedicated funding to the Partnership Fund for the Disadvantaged 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. This dedicated fund attracted private donations of over $50 million in the first round of application last year and benefitted more than 20 000 students. This year, over $70 million in donations has been pledged so far. This is most encouraging and should benefit a lot more students with disadvantaged backgrounds.

     As the founder of Alibaba, Mr Jack Ma once said, "Young people will have the seeds you bury in their minds, and when they grow up, they will change the world". If we want to change the world for the better, we must invest in young people's positive and holistic development. In the respect, I am confident that Project PATHS will pay handsome dividends by putting in place a well tried and successful holistic model for youth development.

     On this note, I wish all of you a fruitful and stimulating conference. I am sure that after this two-day conference you will all come away much better informed, wiser and more confident in building a better future for our young people. Let us not forget the saying that "It takes a village to raise a child". We should get our act together and act in concert. Thank you very much.

Ends/Thursday, May 12, 2016
Issued at HKT 12:30

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