Social welfare sector lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun has hit out at Chief Executive Carrie Lam for neglecting to mention the problem of student suicides in her policy address.

During a question-and-answer session at the Legislative Council on Thursday, Shiu told Lam that there were two instances of suicide and attempted suicide earlier that day. A CUHK student was taken to the hospital around 2am after a suspected suicide attempt, and an 11-year-old boy in school uniform died after falling from a building in Tai Po, according to Ming Pao and RTHK.

Carrie Lam. Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

“Over the past two years, there have been over 72 suicides among young people, from primary school students to postgraduate students. 72 is not a number; it concerns stories, and lives,” Shiu said.

“In the policy address, the focus is not on housing, but on developing the economy, benefitting those with invested interests, innovation with One Belt One Road, massive infrastructure projects… it’s all about money.”

“What is the price of a young person’s life? What is the price of 72 lives?… Under what circumstances will you properly and solemnly respond to the problem of youth suicides, and host a summit on youth suicides? It’s only by respecting death that you can respect life,” Shiu said.

In response, Lam said that there was “no need to use such emotional language,” and added that she started being concerned about youth suicides when she was the Director of Social Welfare. “If you ask Professor Paul Yip, who has done the most research on suicides in Hong Kong, I have long demonstrated concern over the issue and in order to facilitate his research, I have requested that departments make numbers available to him.”

Shiu Ka-chun holding a list of dates on which students committed suicide. Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

She also said that she does not recall any requests for a summit, but promised to ask the Secretary for Labour and Welfare to follow up. Earlier this year, concern groups petitioned Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung, urging him to hold a summit on youth suicides.

Lam stressed that “the government cares a lot about mental health issues, especially those relating to young people.”

Her policy address did not mention student suicides specifically, but it said: “Based on the evaluation results of the Student Mental Health Support Pilot Scheme, we will consider ways to provide appropriate support services for students with mental health needs.”

If you are experiencing negative feelings, please call: The Samaritans 2896 0000 (24-hour, multilingual), Suicide Prevention Centre 2382 0000 or the Social Welfare Department 2343 2255. The Hong Kong Society of Counseling and Psychology provides a WhatsApp hotline in English and Chinese: 6218 1084.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.