LCQ8: Protecting children and youths from online harms

     Following is a question by the Hon Yung Hoi-yan and a written reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Tang Ping-keung, in the Legislative Council today (June 1):
     On protecting children and youths from online harms, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the total number of reports received in the past five years by the Hong Kong Police Force about online harms experienced by children and youths, with a breakdown by category of harms (e.g. hate speech, violence, terrorist activity, child pornographic content and cyber bullying); the major online platforms involved in such harms;
(2) whether, in the past five years, the Student Health Service Centres under the Department of Health or other government departments conducted investigations and compiled statistics in respect of the situations of school children being subjected to cyber bullying; if so, of the details and statistics; if not, the reasons for that;
(3) whether mechanisms and guidelines are in place to help the stakeholders concerned to prevent children and youths from accessing harmful online contents and being cyberbullied; if so, of the details and the expenditure involved; if not, whether it will examine the formulation of relevant mechanisms and guidelines;
(4) as it is learnt that the Government is making preparatory work for the enactment of a cybersecurity legislation, whether it has considered including provisions relating to preventing children and youths from accessing harmful online contents and regulating cyber bullying; if so, of the details; if not, the other ways in which the Government plans to take to protect children and youths in these aspects; and
(5) whether it has plans, by drawing reference from the practices in overseas countries (e.g. the Online Harms White Paper and the Online Safety Bill of the United Kingdom), to draw up a clear definition of "online harms" and require online platforms to step up the protection for children and youths, as well as allow flexibility in defining the relevant offences in order to deal with the ever-changing harmful online behaviours; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
     Internet users are getting younger in the digital age. As children and young people become more active online (including learning, socialising and entertainment), they are more likely to be exposed to various cyber risks, such as cyberbullying, sexual harassment, and access to inappropriate content. Therefore, education on cybersecurity is of great importance in protecting children and young people.
     In consultation with the Education Bureau (EDB), the Food and Health Bureau, the Labour and Welfare Bureau and the Innovation and Technology Bureau, a consolidated reply to the Member's questions is as follows:
     In the past five years, the number of reports received by the Police about offences under the Prevention of Child Pornography Ordinance (Cap. 579), including printing, making, producing, reproducing, copying, importing, exporting, publishing and possessing child pornography, or publishing or causing to be published advertisement on child pornography were as follows:
Year 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Number of reports 30 26 32 40 54
     The Police do not maintain other requested figures.
     The EDB collects information on guidance and discipline cases (cases followed up or handled by schools) from public sector primary and secondary schools every year. Since the 2017/18 School Year, the EDB started to collect case information on cyberbullying. According to the information provided by guidance and discipline school personnel to the EDB, the numbers of cases involving students being cyberbullied were as follows:
School year 2017/18 2018/19 2019/20 2020/21
Number of student cases 54 50 65 105
     The Student Health Service of the Department of Health (DH) conducts health assessment for students receiving annual health examinations. Students of some grades would be invited to fill in questionnaires for healthcare professionals to assess their health and behaviour. According to the information submitted in the questionnaire, from 2015/16 to 2019/20 School Year, there were 2 to 3 per cent of students who indicated that they had been bullied on the Internet (including through social media such as online forums, blogs, emails, chatrooms, instant messaging and other websites) in the past 12 months.
     The Government has been closely monitoring the risks associated with children and young people using the Internet. In this regard, bureaux and departments have taken various measures according to their professional areas to protect them from cyber threats.
(i) The EDB has all along adopted a "zero tolerance" policy on school bullying (including cyberbullying) and required schools to adopt the Whole School Approach in formulating and implementing anti-bullying strategies, including a clear stance on "zero tolerance", reporting channels and handling procedures, highly transparent monitoring mechanism, and following up on every bullying incident in a proactive and serious manner.
     The EDB has provided schools with teaching materials and information about the prevention of Internet addiction. Through the curriculum of various subjects, learning activities and guidance and discipline programmes, it strives to nurture students' moral character and proper conduct, fostering healthy beliefs and clear values in them, and developing their self-control ability to resist temptation, with a view to preventing them from being influenced by inappropriate content on the Internet at an early stage. The EDB has also encouraged schools to remind parents of the need to care more about and pay more attention to the use of information technology of their children, and to seek help from school social workers and guidance personnel whenever necessary.
     To further enhance schools' capability of preventing and handling bullying (including cyberbullying) in schools, the EDB promotes exchanges and sharing of successful experience among schools in this regard, so as to assist schools to implement anti-bullying measures for the creation of a harmonious and caring school environment. In addition, the EDB continuously organises professional development programmes with different themes for teachers to enhance their professional knowledge and competencies in preventing and handling bullying in schools.
(ii) Since December 2018, the Social Welfare Department has provided subvention to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for setting up five Cyber Youth Support Teams (CYSTs) across the territory. Social workers of CYSTs proactively reach out to at-risk and hidden youths through online platforms commonly used by young people, and provide those young people in need with timely intervention, support and counselling services both online and offline. At the same time, by establishing partnership and collaboration with other government departments, schools and community stakeholders, CYSTs address the needs and issues of at-risk and hidden youths, including enhancing cybersecurity awareness among students, and preventing and handling cyberbullying. CYSTs will refer cases to Integrated Family Service Centres or Integrated Children and Youth Services Centres for follow-up where necessary.
(iii) To facilitate public access to relevant health information, the DH has set up a dedicated webpage to provide professional advice for parents, teachers and primary and secondary school students respectively on the excessive use of the Internet, cyberbullying and healthy use of electronic screen products. Besides, the Adolescent Health Programme organised by DH's Student Health Service aims at promoting psychosocial health of adolescents in secondary schools through outreach activities, including presenting topics and organising thematic talks for students and parents on the healthy use of the Internet and electronic screen products.
(iv) The Office of the Government Chief Information Officer regularly organises cybersecurity promotional events such as school visits to raise teachers' and students' awareness of cybersecurity and provide advice on coping with cyberbullying. It has also set up a one-stop information security portal Infosec ( to provide the public with information on cybersecurity. Infosec contains reference materials for educating students on the appropriate use of computer and cyber ethics, and provides information on the prevention and handling of cyberbullying. The website also offers parents and teachers practical tips on how to protect children from online threats, and provides guidelines on issues such as how to work out basic rules for children on the use of the Internet.
(v) The Police attach great importance to child and youth protection, and have all along been working closely with various government departments and stakeholders such as NGOs to actively organise crime prevention publicity activities, so as to raise public awareness of child and youth protection and strengthen children's and youths' ability to protect themselves. The Police rolled out a seven-week "Child Protection Campaign" in October 2021 to raise public awareness of the welfare of children and youths through large-scale promotional activities.
(vi) Cybersecurity covers a wide spectrum of issues, such as cybercrime, information security, data security, and false and inappropriate information. As regards critical infrastructure, they are of great significance to the normal operation of the society. The Government proposes to clearly define the cybersecurity obligations of operators of critical infrastructure through legislation, and plans to launch a public consultation exercise on the legislative proposal by the end of this year.
(vii) The Law Reform Commission (LRC) has initiated a study on cybercrime, including reviewing existing legislations and other relevant measures, and examining relevant developments in other jurisdictions. The Security Bureau will closely monitor the progress and recommendations of LRC's study, as well as the developments on the regulation of inappropriate online content in other jurisdictions.
     Although cyberbullying has not been made a specific criminal offence in Hong Kong, the Internet is not an unreal world that is beyond the law. According to the existing laws in Hong Kong, most of the laws for the prevention of crimes in the real world are applicable to the online world. All bullying activities (cyber or not) are governed by relevant legislation if they involve criminal offences.

Ends/Wednesday, June 1, 2022
Issued at HKT 16:30