Hong Kong’s anti-discrimination law has failed to prevent the segregation of ethnic minority students at schools, a Legislative Council public consultation heard on Monday. NGOs and members of the public said that separate classes for those who learn Chinese as a second language delayed learning and ostracised pupils from the wider community.

A panel tasked with examining racial discrimination policies heard calls for tighter laws to tackle what minority groups say is a failure to allow them to integrate into society.

“The government has enacted a framework, but there’s no substance in the framework,” said Cheuk Man-po, from NGO the Society for Cultural Integration.

Racial discrimination legislative council meeting July 16
Photo: Legislative council screenshot.

Speaking at the meeting, panel member Andy Chan said that eight amendments suggested by the Equal Opportunities Commission related to the 2009 Racial Discrimination Ordinance (RDO) will be accepted. These include measures to prevent racial harassment and repealing provisions that require “proof of intention to discriminate.”

Chan said that further study is needed to inform these changes.

Discrimination in schools

The meeting saw 17 groups and individuals give their views on the third report of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

education kid child school
Photo: GovHK.

Syed Agha, an ethnic minority parent, told HKFP: “When it comes to education, schools are still refusing admission based on the criteria that kids do not speak Cantonese, and government as we heard today are still not addressing that issue.”

At the meeting, Agha called for an end to language segregation in schools and said that the current RDO is “a tiger with broken teeth.”

His nine-year-old daughter Muneeva also told the legislative panel that she was placed in a class for non-Chinese speakers for two years. Agha said that she was previously not learning standard Chinese and that it held back her learning. As a result, her parents requested that she be moved to a class for Chinese speakers and said that the pace of her studies has since improved.

“All thanks to the misplaced education policies and unwillingness to listen and change,” she said.

YouTube video

In response, lawmaker Dennis Kwok said: “Our job is to make sure you have every opportunity to succeed in life, like any other children in Hong Kong and I hope you will always regard Hong Kong as your true home.”

‘Not binding’

However, lawmaker Claudia Mo expressed concern over the efficacy of the regulations: “The guidelines are not binding at all, there is no legal effect whatsoever.”

“You only have the code, and yet the code is not binding at all. That’s the reason why we need to have a law in place.”

Claudia Mo
Claudia Mo. Photo: In-Media.

Chan said in response that the RDO is binding on the government and it will study, in-depth, the proposed amendments.

‘Limited time for engagement’

Puja Kapai, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Hong Kong, who also spoke at the hearing said that the panel was receptive to her suggestions to introduce data to gauge progress on racial equality. But she also said that the three-minute time limit for presenting ideas was restrictive.

“The new rules of procedure provide a very limited time for engagement, unfortunately, because three minutes is really challenging for everyone to make their presentations and for lawmakers to raise questions,” Kapai told HKFP.

Victoria Otero from NGO Resolve said that the panel’s focus on action for ethnic minority groups failed to address the issue of wider discrimination. “There was a lot of focus for intervention for minorities, but when you have a conversation about combating racial discrimination, you also focus on intervention for the majority audience,” she told HKFP.

Victoria Otero
Victoria Otero from NGO Resolve (second right). Photo: ResolveHK.

“It’s important to raise awareness about diversity and inclusion [and] cultural sensitivity to other groups and minorities, and I think this was one of the missing pieces.”

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.