Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(2)853/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB2/PL/HA

LegCo Panel on Home Affairs

Minutes of Meeting
held on Monday, 9 November 1998 at 4:30 pm
in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building Members Present :

Hon CHOY So-yuk (Chairman)
Hon Albert HO Chun-yan (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Cyd HO Sau-lan
Hon LEE Wing-tat
Hon MA Fung-kwok
Hon James TO Kun-sun
Hon Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum, JP
Hon Christine LOH
Hon Gary CHENG Kai-nam
Hon Jasper TSANG Yok-sing, JP
Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing, JP
Hon LAW Chi-kwong, JP

Members Absent :

Hon Edward HO Sing-tin, JP
Hon Mrs Sophie LEUNG LAU Yau-fun, JP
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Hon LAU Wong-fat, GBS, JP
Hon Andrew CHENG Kar-foo
Hon Timothy FOK Tsun-ting, JP

Public Officers Attending :

Mr Peter LO
Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs (1)

Miss Helen TANG
Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs

Mr Philip CHAN
Principal Assistant Secretary for Security

Ms Esther LEUNG
Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower

Miss Katherine CHOI
Assistant Secretary (Home Affairs)

Dr CHAN Wai-man
Assistant Director of Health (Personal Health Services)

Mr LAU Man-shek
Assistant Director of Education (Planning and Research)

Mrs Cecilia TONG
Assistant Director of Social Welfare (Family and Child Welfare)

Mr LI Kwok-ming
Chief Social Security Officer (Social Security)
Attendance by Invitation :

Centre for Comparative and Public Law, University of Hong Kong

Mr Andrew BYRNES
Director/Associate Professor

Visiting Scholar

Association for the Advancement of Feminism
Ms LAM Wai-ha

Hong Kong Women Workers' Association
Ms WU Mei-lin

Hong Kong Association for the Survivors of Women Abuse
Ms CHUNG Yuen-yi

Zi Teng
Ms Angelina CHIN

Hong Kong Women Christian Council
Ms Mary Ann KING
Clerk in Attendance :

Mrs Constance LI
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 2
Staff in Attendance :

Miss Flora TAI
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 2

I.Confirmation of minutes of meetings and matters arising

III.Items for discussion at future meetings

[Appendix to LC Paper No. CB(2)551/98-99]

3. Members agreed to discuss the following items at the next regular meeting scheduled for Monday, 14 December 1998 -

  1. research paper on intermediary bodies for the collection and enforcement of maintenance payments;

  2. the proposed Family Entertainment Centres and licensing of amusement games centres; and

  3. review of the Antiquities and Monument Ordinance.

The Chairman also invited members to forward suggestions to the Clerk or the Chairman on items for future discussion.

4. As some other organizations had expressed interest to present views to the Home Affairs Panel on the Initial Report on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Chairman said that an additional meeting would be scheduled for the purpose. The meeting was tentatively scheduled for Thursday, 26 November 1998 subject to further notice.

(Post-meeting note : With the concurrence of the Chairman, the special meeting was re-scheduled for Monday, 7 December 1998.)

5. Members also noted that the Panel on Housing would discuss bedspace apartments which was one of the policy areas of Home Affairs Bureau. Mr CHENG Kai-nam considered that the Panel on Home Affairs should be involved in the discussion of this subject. Ms Emily LAU suggested and members agreed that the Panel on Housing should invite the Panel on Home Affairs to attend discussion of this item. Clerk

IV.Initial Report on the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)

[LC Paper No. CB(2)405/98-99]

6. The Chairman welcomed representatives of the deputations and the Administration attending the meeting. At the invitation of the Chairman, representatives of the deputations presented their views to members.

Centre for Comparative and Public Law, University of Hong Kong

[LC Paper No. CB(2)578/98-99]

7. Director of the Centre for Comparative and Public Law (CCPL Director) briefed members on the written submission, highlighting four principal recommendations in the following areas -

  1. early submission and publication of reports under CEDAW and other human right treaties;

  2. analysis of the implementation by Government of the recommendations made by the United Nations (UN) treaty bodies;

  3. incorporation of gender impact assessment in the government policy-making and legislative process; and

  4. review of existing reservations and understandings under the Conventions.


8. Miss Christine LOH supported the recommendation of incorporating a gender impact assessment which was similar to the current assessment on human right implications, in the government policy-making and legislative process. In this connection, she asked CCPL Director about the practice in other countries. In response, CCPL Director quoted Australia as an example. He informed members that following ratification as a State party of CEDAW, the Australian Government had included in its annual budgets a women impact statement on each item or programme of expenditure. At the member's request, he agreed to provide the Panel with further information on the Australian practices in this respect.

9. As regards incorporating a gender impact assessment in all legislative proposals, Mr James TO asked whether other countries had such a practice. He remarked that the policy bureaux and departments might not have the expertise and vision in making a comprehensive gender impact assessment as the implications might extend beyond their own sphere of responsibilities. He asked CCPL Director about the likely workload and expertise required to implement such recommendation. CCPL Director responded that, in the initial stage of implementation, government officials would require additional training and efforts. Responding to the Chairman, CCPL Director said that it would be important to have a powerful ministry to coordinate the gender impact assessments throughout government. At the initial stage, the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) which possessed relevant expertise could assist in the assessment. Mr TO stated that he was in favour of designating an agency such as EOC or the Home Affairs Bureau (HAB) to make the gender impact assessment, rather than leaving it to individual bureaux or departments.

10. Miss Christine LOH sought CCPL Director's view as to whether the Government had collected and published enough data on gender issues. CCPL Director responded that, in his opinion, the Government had a fairly good record in publishing statistics on gender segregate data but there was concern about inadequate data in certain fields.

11. Referring to the Administration's practice of publishing the reports on human rights treaties only after submission to the UN, Ms Emily LAU enquired about the practice in other countries. CCPL Director informed members that Hong Kong had a very good reputation internationally in submitting timely and well-written reports. Nevertheless, there were even better examples as countries like Australia, Netherlands and those in Scandinavia had the practice of making their reports public once they were completed. These countries also included views of non-governmental bodies in their reports. CCPL Director stressed that one of the primary functions of the UN reporting procedure was to engage public discussion of the issues raised in the reports, and delay in making the reports public would hinder the process. CCPL Director added that there might be concern about releasing the reports before submission to the UN committees, but he saw no reason why the State parties could not seek the consent of the relevant UN committees for doing so.

The Administration's response

12. At the invitation of the Chairman, Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs (DS(HA)) responded to the suggestions of CCPL and views of members. The gist of discussion was summarized in paragraphs 13 - 19.

Early submission and publication of reports under CEDAW and other human right treaties

13. On the apparent delay in submitting the Initial Report of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) on the implementation of CEDAW, DS(HA) clarified that the report of HKSAR was in fact completed on schedule. However, as the Central People's Government (CPG) was a State Party to the Convention, the HKSAR's report had to be incorporated into CPG's report and was submitted to UN in August 1998. Nevertheless, HKSAR Government had updated its report before transmitting it to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the CPG. With regard to the timetable for submission of other human rights reports to UN, DS(HA) said that the Administration would have to re-schedule the completion dates for the ICCPR and ICESCR reports as it had to accord top priority to the report under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) so as to coincide with CPG's plan to submit its third periodic report under CAT to the UN in December 1998.

Analysis on implementation by the HKSAR Government of recommendations of UN treaty bodies

14. DS(HA) said that the Administration was committed to compiling detailed and comprehensive reports on the implementation of the various human rights treaties, taking fully in account relevant observations/recommendations previously made by UN Treaty Monitoring Bodies (TMBs). In this connection, the UN committees had held eight hearings in 1994-1997 to consider reports on Hong Kong, and the Administration had already provided the Legislative Council with detailed responses to the recommendations of five of these hearings.

(Post-meeting note : The Administration has advised that press releases were issued in respect of the other three hearings.)

15. Ms Emily LAU expressed dissatisfaction that the Administration did not include in the reports to UN a checklist on the implementation of recommendations of the relevant UN TMBs. In response, DS(HA) explained the procedures for the preparation of reports to UN. He said that Hong Kong would submit its reports on an article-by-article basis. Where observations/ recommendations relating to particular article had been made during previous hearings of TMBs, Hong Kong's response to each of them would appear in the relevant section of the report. Nevertheless, he appreciated that Members might wish to have an overview of all these observations/recommendations. After completion of the reports, the Administration would prepare a checklist or summary on the TMB's observations/recommendations, Hong Kong's response, the present position etc. He stressed that the priority at the moment was to complete the three human rights reports to ensure their timely submission to UN. The summary or checklist could be compiled at a later stage. In this connection, Ms LAU maintained the view that the summary should be included in the reports to UN, in order to present a full picture on the steps taken by the HKSAR Government in implementing the recommendations previously made by the UN committees.

Incorporation of gender impact assessment into government policy-making and legislative process

16. DS(HA) said that he could not give a definite response to CCPL's recommendation on incorporating a gender impact assessment into the government policy-making and legislative process at the present stage. The Government would, on the recommendation of the Panel, consider following up the proposal and consult the bureaux and departments on the feasibility with regard to availability of gender statistics. In this regard, the Chairman said that the Panel would like the Administration to respond to the proposal. Adm

17. With regard to CCPL's recommendation that the Government should provide a breakdown of the number of women and men serving on various advisory boards and to ensure a representative number of women serving on these bodies, DS(HA) expressed concern that this might constitute a kind of affirmative action. He said that the Government was not in favour of fixing a percentage for women serving on advisory boards, as the primary consideration should be the suitability, rather than the gender, of appointees. Miss Christine LOH shared the view of CCPL that setting an appropriate number of women representatives on advisory bodies was not an affirmative action but rather a strategy to ensure that all women had equal opportunities to participate in public service. In this connection, she expressed concern about the absence of women representatives on certain important committees such as the Exchange Fund Advisory Committee. She enquired about the role of HAB and Government policy in this respect.

18. DS(HA) responded that HAB maintained a database on people who had a record or interest in public service for nominations to serve on various boards and committees. Upon request of the bureaux or departments concerned, HAB would make recommendations for appointment to advisory bodies based on information in the database. The Chairman advised that HAB should take a more proactive approach to identify suitable women candidates for public service. Ms Emily LAU and Mr Ambrose CHEUNG suggested that HAB should make more publicity to encourage women to volunteer for public service. DS(HA) noted members' suggestions and undertook to follow up the matter. He said that HAB welcomed people to send in their resume for inclusion in the database and would consider publicizing this on the Internet as a first step. Adm

Review of existing reservations and declarations

19. Referring to the reservations and declarations on CEDAW, DS(HA) pointed out that CEDAW was extended to Hong Kong only from October 1996. Due to the time gap in the application of the different human rights treaties to Hong Kong, a direct comparison of the reservations and declarations among different treaties was inappropriate. The Administration was now reviewing the reservations and declarations under ICESCR and a review of ICCPR would commence soon. In this connection, CCPL Director considered that those reservations and declarations which were unnecessary should be withdrawn, and that no more reservations should be added in respect of the application of CEDAW in Hong Kong.

Association for the Advancement of Feminism (AAF)

20. Representative of AAF expressed disappointment that Government had not allocated additional resources or initiated any measures for the implementation of CEDAW. She commented that the Administration had not conducted any public consultation on the CEDAW report which was rather superficial, giving only one-sided observations that no discrimination against women existed in Hong Kong after the enactment of anti-discrimination legislation.

21. On the work of EOC, representative of AAF made the following comments -

  1. EOC should increase the transparency of its structure and operation, and should include 'grassroots' women representatives; and

  2. EOC should adopt a more proactive approach in performing its statutory duties to ensure its services could meet the actual requirements of women.

She added that Hong Kong Women's Coalition on Equal Opportunities issued monitoring reports on the work of EOC, and she would forward a copy to the Panel on Home Affairs for information.

(Post-meeting note : A copy of the monitoring report of the Coalition was received and distributed to Panel members vide LC Paper No. CB(2)785/98-99.)

Hong Kong Women Workers' Association (HKWWA)

22. Representative of HKWWA focused mainly on the sex discrimination in employment field and made the following points -

  1. Women employees were subject to discrimination in terms of pay and conditions of service in the absence of legislation on minimum wage and age discrimination. HKWWA was in favour of legislation and more public education in this respect.

  2. There was inadequate maternity protection as women employees still had to suffer wage reduction during maternity leave.

  3. There was no old age protection for retired female workers and housewives as they were not covered by the Mandatory Provident Fund Scheme.

Hong Kong Association for the Survivors of Women Abuse (HKASWA)

23. Representative of HKASWA expressed dissatisfaction that Government had not taken any measures to protect or to provide services to women who were victims of sex violence. It demonstrated that the Administration simply treated sex violence as one kind of crime and not an infliction on women. Representative of HKASWA also considered that the Domestic Violence Ordinance could not provide adequate protection to victims of domestic violence, since the processing time for an injunction order by the Court was unduly long, and the injunction was valid only for six months and within a restrictive area.

24. Representative of HKASWA also made the following points -

  1. police officers tended to treat cases of domestic violence as family disputes;

  2. caseworkers of Social Welfare Department often attached more importance to a complete family rather than the interests of the woman;

  3. the housing needs of single parents or victims of domestic violence were not properly addressed by Social Welfare Department and Housing Department;

  4. an intermediary body should be set up to collect and enforce maintenance payments; and

  5. child care services should be provided to single-parent families.

Zi Teng

25. Representative of Zi Teng referred to Article 6 of CEDAW and expressed disappointment about the lack of assistance to prostitutes. She said that although prostitution was not an offence under the Crimes Ordinance, section 147 of the Ordinance (soliciting for an immoral purpose) would indirectly criminalize prostitutes particularly those touting for business in the street. The representative considered that the Police under-cover operation was an inflictment on the human rights of the prostitutes, and that other provisions in the Ordinance relating to offences such as "keeping a vice establishment" and "living on earnings of prostitution of others" had adversely affected the livelihood of prostitutes. In her opinion, police actions against vice establishments had also forced prostitutes to tout for business in streets, thus exposing them to more dangers. She urged the Government to take a pro-active approach to change public attitude and to provide more assistance specifically for this group of women.

Hong Kong Women Christian Council (HKWCC)

26. Representative of HKWCC urged Members and Government to allocate more resources and to introduce anti-discrimination legislation to implement the provisions in CEDAW. She expressed disappointment that legislation against discrimination on grounds of age, race and sexual orientation had not been enacted in Hong Kong. She further pointed out that the functional constituency election system had indirectly deprived women (particularly those part-time workers, low income earners and housewives) of the right to vote. She considered it necessary to have universal suffrage to protect the right to vote of every woman.

27. Referring to the reservation under Article 1 of CEDAW , representative of HKWCC considered that the exclusion of religious denominations or orders in the HKSAR from the application of CEDAW was inappropriate and should be withdrawn as soon as possible. She was of the view that sexual discrimination and sex stereotyping were common phenomena among religious bodies in Hong Kong, and these were unfair and unjust to women. She also expressed dissatisfaction about another reservation under CEDAW permitting the continuation of small house policy in the New Territories, as the policy was clearly a discriminatory act against women.

28. In making the following recommendations, the representative stressed that HKWCC was not proposing positive discriminatory actions -

  1. a Women Council or Committee should be set up for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women;

  2. women centres should be established in districts to assist women to develop their potential;

  3. resources should be provided to women organizations and the implementation of CEDAW; and

  4. public educational programmes should be launched to eliminate sex discrimination.

Discussion with members

Protection to women against violence

29. In response to Ms Emily LAU's enquiry about housing assistance to victims of domestic violence, representative of HKASWA said that the Administration should be more flexible in considering applications from victims of domestic violence to enable them to move away from their residence. She said that the departments concerned should not discriminate against this group of women on grounds of their marital status.

Application of laws against violence to prostitutes

30. Deputy Chairman sought clarification from Zi Teng as to whether they were proposing legalization of prostitution. Representative of Zi Teng responded that the Administration should review the various provisions of the Crimes Ordinance to ascertain whether such provisions afforded adequate protection to prostitutes. Zi Teng upheld the opinion that section 147 of the Ordinance on soliciting for an immoral purpose should be deleted. However, Zi Teng did not have any definite view on introducing a licensing system for prostitutes at the present stage.

Small house policy

31. Responding to Ms Emily LAU, representative of AAF said that under the existing small house policy, a female indigenous villager did not enjoy the same rights as her male counterpart in having a small house on her own land or Government land. While she considered this a matter of sexual discrimination, she had no definite view as to whether all indigenous villagers should be entitled to small houses on Government land. She commented that this was an issue which should be dealt with by the Government through public consultation. Ms Emily LAU was of the view that all urban and rural residents of Hong Kong should have equal rights and that indigenous villagers in the New Territories, irrespective of their gender, should not have privileges over others.

Maternity protection for women

32. Referring to paragraph 96 of the CEDAW report, Ms HO Sau-lan sought deputations' views about a legislative proposal to reduce certain employment benefits such as maternity protection to foreign domestic helpers. Representative of HKWCC and representative of AAF said that this would be an issue of sexual and racial discrimination as the majority affected would be women and certain ethnic groups. Representative of HKWWA added that the proposal reflected a lack of recognition of the contribution of domestic helpers.

Resources for women services

33. Replying to Ms HO Sau-lan, representative of HKWCC said that many women organizations depended on financial support from charities and overseas donations. Government funding was provided on a project basis and it normally did not cover administrative costs which represented about 50% of the organisations' expenditure. Due to shortage of funds, HKWCC was unable to provide casework services. Representative of AAF added that the Government had neglected the provision of women services and she urged the Government to set up a dedicated fund for this purpose.

34. Responding to views expressed by the deputations, the Deputy Chairman said that different Panels of the Legislative Council had discussed similar concerns. For example, a Member's Bill on age discrimination was under discussion and the Panel of Home Affairs also shared the view that an intermediary body could assist in the collection of maintenance payments. He suggested that deputations could put forward concrete proposals to the Panel in writing to facilitate members' consideration of their various concerns. In this connection, Ms Emily LAU also suggested the Administration to provide a written response to the views of the deputations. Adm

(Post-meeting note : The written submissions of these women organizations were received and distributed to Panel members vide LC Paper No. CB(2)810/98-99.)

Administration's initial response to views of deputations

35. At the invitation of the Chairman, DS(HA) responded to the deputations' views as summarized in the following paragraphs.

Publicity and consultation on CEDAW

36. DS(HA) informed members that the Administration had made a lot of efforts to publicize CEDAW since its extension to Hong Kong in October 1996. Over 20,000 copies of the Convention had been distributed and the contents were also made available on the Internet.

37. With regard to the public consultation on the CEDAW report, DS(HA) said that in May 1997 the Administration had issued a draft outline of topics for inclusion in the CEDAW report for public comments. However, only two submissions (Hong Kong Women Development Association and Hong Kong Federation of Women's Centres) were received by the Administration.

Implementation of CEDAW in Hong Kong

38. DS(HA) stressed that the Administration had taken a series of measures to implement the various provisions in CEDAW particularly in the areas of welfare, education, employment and protection of women. A number of policy groups under the chairmanship of the Chief Secretary for Administration had provided the necessary co-ordination among the various bureaux for provision of women services. In addition, the Administration had also reviewed and amended existing legislation to ensure that they were in compliance with the obligations under CEDAW. The exercise would be completed when four remaining pieces of legislation relating to maritime affairs and partnership were also amended.

Intermediary body for the collection of maintenance payments

39. DS(HA) pointed out that the Administration had amended the law and introduced the Attachment of Income Order Rules (AIOR) to facilitate collection of maintenance payments. As AIOR were put in place only recently, the Administration would review its effectiveness in about one year's time.

Small house policy

40. DS(HA) informed members that the Administration was reviewing the small house policy which would be completed in early 1999.

Services to victims of spouse battering

41. Responding to deputation's comments on the handling of domestic violence cases, Assistant Director of Social Welfare (AD(SW)) said that although caseworkers would try to conciliate in these cases, they would not sacrifice the interests of the battered wives. The caseworker would continue to assist the battered spouse even if a marriage was irretrievable. She stressed that the caseworker would not discriminate against any party in a family dispute, as both man and wife should have the same responsibility to the family.

42. Principal Assistant Secretary for Security (PAS(S)) pointed out that the Police had drawn up guidelines for handling domestic violence cases, and information cards were also distributed to victims of domestic violence. In cases of family disputes, referral for counselling would be arranged where necessary. If actual bodily harm was done to any party, the case would be dealt with as a criminal offence. In this connection, regular training was provided by the Police and Harmony House to ensure that police officers were capable of handling domestic violence cases professionally. So far, more than 1,600 police officers had attended such training. Referring to the deputation's comments in paragraph 24(a), PAS(S) said that he would take the matter up with the Police if the deputations could provide more information in this respect.

43. On the housing needs of single parents and battered spouses, AD(SW) said that for applicants who did not meet the basic criteria for compassionate rehousing, the caseworker concerned would explain to the applicants the reason(s) of rejection in each case. The Social Welfare Department had also reviewed cases referred by concern groups where the applicants were aggrieved by the decision in rejected cases.

Police actions against vice establishments

44. With regard to police action against vice establishments, PAS(S) explained that police action was mainly to combat syndicated activities and organized crime on exploitation of women. Sometimes undercover operation was unavoidable. He stressed that the Police had a duty to combat crime and respond to demands of the community.

Sexual discrimination in employment

45. Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower (PAS(E&M) stated that the Administration had conducted a review in 1997 on protection provisions under the Employment Ordinance. Apart from increasing the maternity leave pay from two-third to four-fifth of the employee's wages, there was also relaxation of the qualifying service requirement and other restrictions for entitlement to maternity leave. She stressed that as with improvements in other employee rights and benefits, the Administration had to strike a balance between the different interests of employers and employees, in line with Hong Kong's socio-economic developments.

46. On equal employment opportunities for women, PAS(E&M) pointed out that the Administration had objectively presented relevant statistics in the CEDAW report which indicated the growing participation of women in employment. The Administration was concerned with the employment difficulties encountered by female job-seekers particularly those who were unskilled and relatively less educated. In view of the high and rising unemployment, the Administration had been implementing a series of measures to assist the unemployed, including the unemployed female, to re-join the workforce. With regard to age discrimination, PAS(E&M) said that it was the Administration's position that publicity, public education and self-regulation would be a more effective and prudent approach than legislation in addressing the concern. The Administration had launched a series of programmes in this respect and would review the effectiveness before deciding the way forward.

47. The Chairman thanked representatives of the Administration for attending the meeting. In view of the time constraint, the Chairman suggested that members could raise further questions at the special Panel meeting scheduled for continued discussion on CEDAW.

48. The meeting ended at 6:55 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
11 December 1998