Topic: Situation of racial discrimination in Hong Kong - A background paper for the Social Science Forum held on 1 November 2001
In Hong Kong, ethnic minorities include new immigrants from Mainland China, South and Southeast Asians. They face many problems in their daily life because of their race and cultural differences. Thus, racial discrimination exists in Hong Kong and becomes more and more serious. In this paper, we would like to talk about the situation of ethnic minorities and the government’s attitude towards racial discrimination in Hong Kong. And we would give some comments on this topic.
According to Home Affairs Branch, 1997, it codes the United Nation’s definition of racial discrimination as,
‘In this Convention, the term “racial discrimination” shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, employment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.’ (p.3)
And the United Nations Human Right Committee further clarified this definition,
‘The term “discrimination” as used in the covenant should be understood to imply any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference which is based on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, and which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by all persons, on an equal footing, of all rights and freedoms. [N]ot every differentiation of treatment will constitute discrimination, if the criteria for such differentiation are reasonable and objective and if the aim is to achieve a purpose which is legitimate under the Covenant.’(p.4)
The Situation of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong
There are difficulties that the ethnic minorities, including foreign domestic helpers, face in Hong Kong. And the ethnic minorities in this paper refer to those who come from the South or Southeast Asia, such as Filipino, Indonesian, Indian, Thai, Nepalese, and Pakistani, no matter whether they are domestic helpers or immigrants.
To begin with, finding a job in Hong Kong is a great difficulty for the ethnic minorities due to their races. There are 279,600 non-Chinese in Hong Kong which occupy 4.1% of the total population. Among them, 32% have been rejected for employment or interview because of their races or based on some bad excuses (Society for Community Organization: Hong Kong 2001) while 27% have been rejected when the employers learnt that they were not Chinese or Westerns. In addition, 18% of ethnic minorities have been rejected because of the language though the job does not require spoken or written Chinese. (Coalition for Racial Equality (CORE), Hong Kong Human Rights Commission July 30 2001) Therefore, ethnic minorities find great obstacle in finding jobs in Hong Kong.
Apart from employment, ethnic minorities are discriminated as shown by their salaries. The median monthly income of Hong Kong population is HK$10,000 while the median monthly earning for new immigrants and ethnic minorities is HK$6,000 and HK$3,800 respectively. Another survey reveals that ethnic minorities receive lower salaries (41%) but have longer working hours than other races on the same job level. (Coalition for Racial Equality (CORE), Hong Kong Human Rights Commission July 30 2001). Even the government, the greatest employer in Hong Kong who takes the leading role in eliminating discrimination, also adopts an employment policy of against ethnic minorities’ interest. For example, some government posts require applicants to have stayed in Hong Kong for more than seven years. (Coalition for Racial Equality (CORE), Hong Kong Human Rights Commission July 30 2001). This makes the non-permanent residents exclude from such posts. So, we can see that ethnic minorities can hardly integrate into our society.
On the other hand, accommodation is another problem for ethnic minorities. From the recent research, 30% of the ethnic minorities have experienced problems in renting with bad excuses (Society for Community Organization: Hong Kong 2001). It is because some landlords have a wrong image that the ethnic minorities are poor and therefore cannot pay the rent. Besides, Hong Kong Government’s residence rule also has discrimination against new immigrants that it requires a minimum of 7 years residence in Hong Kong. As a result, 45.6% of new immigrants have difficulties to access to public housing (Coalition for Racial Equality (CORE), Hong Kong Human Rights Commission July 30 2001).
Next, education is another problem. In Hong Kong, there are seven schools for the whole ethnic minority population. Among them, 3,069 students are enrolled in these schools. But, there are 5,300 ethnic minority children aged between 5-14. According to a recent research, 39.3% ethnic minorities’ children have difficulties in finding a school while 23.6% do not know where to find a channel. And 11.6% cannot find a school place. Moreover, 15% of ethnic minority children have to wait for more than a year for a school place. 5.6% have to wait for 6 to 12 moths whereas 30.7% get a school place within 6 months. Some of them are forced to run their own schools since no other alternative is available (Coalition for Racial Equality (CORE), Hong Kong Human Rights Commission July 30, 2001).
Since some children of ethnic minorities cannot find a place in school, they are forced to turn to vocational training. In the workforce of Hong Kong, learning Chinese is very important. However, the government has not launched a comprehensive policy regarding to the needs of ethnic minorities. And the vocational training courses are always taught in Chinese while only 11.2% of ethnic minorities are fluent in Cantonese. Moreover, the Youth Pre-vocational Training Programme for the 15-19 years old group has totally ignored the ethnic minorities. Therefore, many of them (78.4%) are engaged in elementary occupations.
Then, I would like to mention discrimination that the ethnic minorities meet in daily life. 82% of the respondents said that they have suffered discrimination in shops, markets or restaurants. For example, staff avoid to give service to them but to give priority to Westerns or Chinese, and people are not willing to share a table with them. So, 1/3 of respondents feel that they are looked down upon at these places (Society for Community Organization: Hong Kong 2001). Such kind of discrimination is due to ethnic stratification that ethnic groups have a lower status than Chinese. Thus, ethnic minorities always have great obstacles in integrating into the society.
In the aspect of foreign domestic helpers (FDHs), according to Asian Migrant Centre and Coalition For Migrants’ Right, there are violations and discrimination towards FDHs in Hong Kong (p.2). Three groups of FDHs, Filipino, Indonesian and Thai, constitute over 98% of the total FDH population in Hong Kong. Most of them are women. This survey uses random sampling to interview 2,500 respondents. The result reveals that the FDHs have identified some areas of public life where they are very often unfairly treated or discriminated against. They are markets/groceries (7%), shop/restaurants/commercial establishments (4.5%), and public transportation personnel (3.4%). Also, among the sectors of Hong Kong society, local women, local men, and Hong Kong public in general have exercised discrimination to them. Finally, the FDHs believe that the most significant reason why they are discriminated against is because of the nature of their job (class discrimination – 60%), second is because they are foreigners (racial discrimination – 22%).
Generally speaking, ethnic minorities have great obstacle in integrating into the society due to the discrimination by the public. What is the government’s attitude towards racial discrimination? What has our government done to help the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong?
The policy of SAR government to deal with the problem of racial discrimination
From the facts mentioned above, we cannot deny that there is racial discrimination in Hong Kong. This is the truth that many ethnic minorities face many difficulties in adaptation because of racial discrimination. In spite of the Bill of Rights, 1991 which prohibits racial and other forms of discrimination as proposed by the government, the SAR government has not done very much in dealing with this problem. And it is the main concern of calling for legislation against racial discrimination in private life.
Education instead of legislation
The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination was extending to Hong Kong in 1969. Although SAR government admits that racial discrimination is a problem in Hong Kong, the officials have not done very much to legislate any policies against racial discrimination, as education may be considered as much more effective than legislation. However, there are Sex Discrimination Ordinance, Disability Discrimination Ordinance, and Family Status Discrimination Ordinance in Hong Kong but no racial discrimination ordinance.
The reasons for SAR government not to legislate any policies against racial discrimination are not clearly explained. To a certain extent, the opposition by business sector is a reason. Some capitalists are afraid that the legislation will threaten the competitive ability of Hong Kong. It is because the ethnic minorities and new immigrants from China provide a cheap labour market. The capitalists can often save money by paying less salary to them. Legislation may end the exploitation and so the capitalists need to invest more capital. The higher salary will discourage capitalists to invest in Hong Kong.
As a result, in dealing with this problem, SAR government only uses education as the mean for elimination of discrimination. SAR government spent some money on education campaigns like encouraging schools to teach on this topic and the Home Affairs Bureau created some comic booklet for the public. Apart from this, it seems that government pays little attention to help the racial minorities to face the problem of discrimination and adaptation in Hong Kong.
What government has done?
In the following, we will focus on what government has done in the aspect of housing, education and employment. Besides we will go through what laws have been set up by the government in order to eliminate racial discrimination.
The Housing Authority has set up the rule for those who want to apply the public housing must have half of the family members being Hong Kong permanent residents. For the ethnic minority families, they are migrated from their motherland. According to the law, they need to live in Hong Kong for at least seven years continually. As you can see, it is very difficult for them to fulfill such criteria. However, the government has done nothing for them. The only thing that the government can do is to arrange them to live in public housing.
Education is the aspect that the government has done much for ethnic minorities. The government has provided a 60-hour ‘Induction Program’ for all the children who newly arrive. Besides, the government also provides a ‘Full-time Initiation Program for Children Newly Arrived from the Mainland’. However such service does not include the ethnic minorities. It shows that the government only concerns the children that come from the Mainland China. A survey by Yang Memorial Methodist Society Service in 2000 shows that the ethnic minorities have difficulty in finding school place. The government agrees to provide primary and secondary schools with one-off payments of $2,750 and $4,080 for each minority pupil enrolled. Moreover, the program of ‘Mother-tongue teaching’ forces the ethnic minorities to study in international schools or those schools offering Hindu-Urdu classes. It will be a heavy financial burden for such families because of the high international school fee.
The government has done very little for the ethnic minorities in employment. The government follows a similar mechanism in job market to adjust the labour wage. For the moment, no official rule is set up to regulate the labour wage. Most employers do not want to employ the colour-skin people or pay a lower wage to them. It will affect their living condition since the men are usually the breadwinners in most families. Therefore the minority families will face great difficulty in finding jobs.
Law that protect the minority
Nowadays, Hong Kong considers that the protection against racial discrimination has already been enough at the moment. Government thinks that existing laws have protected the interest of the ethnic minorities. However, as the voice about racial discrimination from the public becomes louder and louder, the government has now to reconsider whether it is necessary to review such laws. There is no law to protect the ethnic minorities against racial discrimination.
As we have mentioned before, the ethnic minorities are being discriminated in different areas, for instance unemployment, education, accommodation, and so on. In fact, their problems have been existing for a long time. However, as Hong Kong is now suffering from economic difficulty, less people will show their concern on the needs of the ethnic minority groups. Hence, it is believed that policy legislation may protect the ethnic minorities, for example, to give them equal opportunities on employment, education, etc. But under the present apathetic atmosphere among the people, whether it is sufficient pressure on the government for legislation against racial discrimination is still a question. Moreover, even if the law is passed, can it be carried out efficiently? It is useless if no one abides by the law. In fact, some ethnic minorities reflect that government officials treat them impolitely. That means, the government officials have already prejudiced against ethnic minority groups. Thus, how can the ethnic minorities seek help from the government? Then, should we rely on laws to protect them from discrimination? Should we also make the move through education to raise public’s awareness towards the problem?
It is believed that educating the younger generation may help to minimize the prejudice against ethnic minorities as a long-term plan. Nevertheless, the schools rarely teach students about racial discrimination. In addition, it is difficult for the younger generation to learn how to eliminate racial discrimination through family education if their parents already have prejudiced against those ethnic minorities. Thus, how can we minimize racial discrimination in Hong Kong, simply only by law or by education, or through the efforts by both in some ways?
Hong Kong. Home Affairs Branch. (1997). Equal opportunities: a study on discrimination on the ground of race – a consultation paper. Hong Kong:Author.
Society for Community Organization: Hong Kong (2001).
Coalition for Racial Equality (CORE), Hong Kong Human Rights Commission. July 30, 2001
Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor--- Shadow Report to the United Nations
Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination Regarding of the
Hong Kong SAR of the People Republic of China 2000 July
Chan Ka Yee, Winnie ESEAS I
Ho Pui Chi, Janet ESEAS II
Kwan Hoi Yan, Joyce ESEAS II
Lai Ching Man, Yvonne ESEAS II
Lok Sing Ping, Ivan PSA I
So Lai Yi, Bonnie PSA I
Websites on Racial Discrimination 有關種族歧視的網頁
Hong Kong Government Website:
Chief Executive’s Policy Address, 2001.
Home Affairs Bureau Documents
The Equal Opportunities Commission of Hong Kong
Local Human Rights Websites:
The Hong Kong Human Rights Commission
The Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong.
The Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nation.
The Taiwan Association for Human Rights
Movement Against Discrimination
Global Signature Campaign Seeking the Enactment of Laws Against Racism in Hong Kong
Asian Human Rights Websites:
The Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions.
The Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
The New Zealand Human Rights Commission
The National Commission on Human Rights Indonesia in English version
The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia
Human Rights Network on the Web in Philippines
The Fiji Human Rights Commission
Korea Human Rights Foundation (in English version)
The National Human Rights Commission India
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
Western Human Rights Websites:
The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance.
Commission for Racial Equality based in the UK
Canadian Race Relations Foundation
Chinese for Affirmative Action
International Human Rights Websites:
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
The Human Rights Internet
Human Rights Watch
World Conference against racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance