CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Some proposals for the new government of HKSAR from the Catholic Church in Hong Kong

 

‘The joys and the hopes, the grief and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ’ (Note 1)

As people of the Catholic Church, we expressed our concern for the well-being of Hong Kong on February 19 this year, in a statement entitled, Some expectations about the future SAR government envisioned by the Catholic Church in Hong Kong (February Document—Sunday Examiner, February 19).

It also harbours the hope that the new government of the Special Administrative Region (SAR) will find a way to implement some of these recommendations, especially dual universal suffrage by 2017 and the four sectors of social provision (housing, medical care, retirement protection and education).

These recommendations reflect the major concerns of the general public and Catholic people in particular.

The new chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, pledged to safeguard core values like human rights and the rule of law in Hong Kong, when assuming office on July 1 this year.

We hope that the new officials in the SAR government will, as pledged, fulfil their duties with loyalty, show care for the citizens, protect and promote the common good, and develop Hong Kong society.

It is also our hope that they will serve the public with integrity and accountability. We hold the profound belief that a responsible government willingly listens to the views of every sector of society, encourages the free expression of views and consults broadly.

Now that the new Legislative Council (LegCo) is in place, we would like to make some further proposals to the new SAR government and the members of the LegCo some further opinions relating to the well-being of Hong Kong:

 

I. Promotion of family life

 

In the February Document, we pointed out that “stable marriage and harmonious family life are prerequisites to safeguarding the well-being of society.”

However, families in Hong Kong are currently facing big challenges. While Hong Kong, to a greater or lesser extent, has been showing growth in such areas as technology, internationalisation, education, civic society development, political engagement, economic progress, medical care and cultural and recreational activities, it has been in continual decline in terms of family unity.

The following points demand our special attention:

 

1.1 Family problems have an impact on society

 

According to the latest population statistical report released by the Census and Statistics Department, an average domestic household in Hong Kong has 2.9 persons. Consequently, internal family support is considered to be weak.

In Hong Kong, statistics on divorce, single-parent families and domestic violence (abuse of children, elderly people and spouses) have drastically increased over recent years.

Under the influence of unhealthy family lives and other trends in the social environment, social conduct, like youth drug addiction, permissive attitudes towards sex, injudicious friendships and compensated dating are becoming more common.

 

1.2 Over-long working hours lead
to alienation among family members

 

Over-long working hours, without any legal definition of maximum working hours or any arrangement for flexible working hours have led to a long-term imbalance between work and rest, and greatly affected opportunities for communication and family union between spouses and among parents and children.

The government Steering Committee on Population Policy Progress Report 2012 clearly states the need to enhance the participation rate of the female population in the workforce.

This would clearly increase the number of two working parent families further damaging the quality of family life and the scope of internal family support.

The Seventh World Meeting of Families held in Milan, Italy, from May 30 to June 3 this year, stressed that work demands on family members must always keep a harmony with family life.

 

1.3 Declining birth rates and an
increase in cross-border families

 

While more and more young people are uncertain about going into marriage and giving birth to children, the mean ideal number of children after marriage dropped steadily between 1991 and 2011.

According to the latest population data released on 31 July 2012 by the Census and Statistics Department, Hong Kong is facing problems because of its low birth rate and an ageing population.

In addition, inadequate and uncertain financial structures, as well as the lack of a sense of security are some of the major reasons that young people either do not marry or are uncertain whether they should or not.

The government should expeditiously implement a set of sustainable population policies to provide young people with more financially affordable housing and a series of family-friendly policies to help young people overcome obstacles that deter them from founding a family.

Other recommendations that are worthy of consideration include encouraging employers to develop a family-friendly working environment for their staff and couples to share the housework and the responsibilities involved in raising children.

Cross-border marriages between mainlanders and Hong Kong residents are also continually increasing.

The annual figure registered in Hong Kong has reached more than 10,000, which accounts for over 20 per cent of all marriage registrations in the territory.

The 2008 report from the Census and Statistics Department shows that there were 110,000 Hong Kong families (including family members who have yet to obtain the right of abode in the territory) residing in Shenzhen.

The number of cross-border students from 2011 and 2012 has risen to 12,865. This represents a 188 per cent increase during the past five years.

Based on the above data, cross-border families have become a common family structure.

We are concerned about the difficulties they face in terms of family function, including alienation between couples or among parents and children, an unbalanced share of family responsibilities and weaker social support network.

 

1.4 Family rights must be safeguarded

 

“Self-cultivation, regulating one’s family, rightly governing one’s state and making the entire world peaceful” is a classical Chinese proverb.

As families make up the basic cell of society, its entire well-being hinges on a system for family life. What is good for the family is good for society. All families enjoy basic rights that should not be violated or tampered with.

Article 19 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights emphasises, “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”

Below are some basic human rights that are related to the family (Note 2):

i Every human being enjoys the right to a family; every human being, whether poor or rich, should have adequate means to support family life;

ii the right to the transmission of life and to educate children;

iii the right to bring up children in accordance with the family’s own traditions and religious and cultural values, with the necessary instruments, means and institutions;

iv the right to the intimacy of conjugal and family life;

v the right to the stability of the bond and of institution of marriage; 

vi the right to emigrate as a family in search of a better life;

vii the right to believe in and profess one’s faith and to propagate it;

viii the right to housing suitable for living family life in a proper way; 

ix the right, especially of the poor and the sick, to obtain physical, social, political and economic security;

x the right to expression and to representation, either directly or through associations, before the economic, social and cultural public authorities and lower authorities;

xi the right to form associations with other families and institutions, in order to promote the family’s role; 

xii the right to protect minors through suitable organisations and legislation from harmful drugs, alcoholism, pornography in publications, films or other media;

xiii the right to wholesome recreation of a kind that also fosters family values;

xiv the right of elderly people to enjoy retirement, to a worthy life and a worthy death.

 

1.5 Implementing family-friendly
policies expeditiously

 

In order to enable families to enjoy the above-mentioned rights and to fulfill their obligations in a way that respects human dignity, society and national governments have great responsibilities and must do everything possible to provide families with all necessary economic, social, political, educational and cultural assistance (Note 3).

In view of this, we hope that the new SAR government will expeditiously implement family-friendly policies.

We suggest that the government should take into special consideration the following:

i Evaluating its current policies on population, housing, medical care, education and welfare to investigate any direct or potentially negative impact on maintaining family functionality, family cohesion, the family’s engagement in economic and social activities, the family’s power of self-determination and care for disadvantaged families. The government should try its very best to reduce the negative impact of these factors or adopt remedial measures.

ii Continually assessing changes in the cohesion and functionality of families to discover what core problems may exist and to provide plans to address these.

iii Working with religious groups and other non-government organisations to build social networks and social capital to support the functionality of families and the development of a family-friendly environment in society.

iv Strengthening family support services (including pre- and post-marriage counselling), particularly providing care for divorced, single-parent and cross-border families.

v Mobilising forces across all sectors of society to create preventive measures and try every possible means to find solutions for family problems at the preliminary stage; promoting enterprises and encouraging employers to launch family-friendly measures (such as working hours); and enhancing the general public’s awareness of family life by means of public education.

 

2 Eliminating the rich-poor gap and improving economy and livelihood

 

2.1 The rich-poor gap divides society

 

In Hong Kong, there are currently over a million people living below the poverty line with the great majority advanced in age. By the end of 2010, out of 918,000 people aged 65 or over, only 350,000 were receiving Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) or entitled to it.

Furthermore, a lot of poor people work for wages which are not sufficient to sustain a decent livelihood. Finally, some of the poor people are jobless and cannot maintain even a basic livelihood.

As far as the entire social opportunity structure is concerned, there is a lack of social mobility in Hong Kong society as a whole and thus middle and low income earners cannot improve their lives easily, while wealth at the upper levels continually accumulates.

According to 2011 Population Census—Thematic Report Household Income Distribution in Hong Kong published by the SAR Census and Statistics Department recently, the Gini Coefficient measure of the disparity in overall gross household incomes in Hong Kong increased from 0.533 in 2006 to 0.537 in 2011, creating a new high over the past four decades and much higher than other economically-developed places.

The difference between the income of the poorest and richest households in Hong Kong has increased from 27 times 10 years ago to nearly 45 times today.

The above report points out that the major factors underlying the rise in income disparity are population ageing and a gradual rise in the number of economically inactive households.

Over the past decade, this category of households has risen markedly by 48.3 per cent.

It is evident that the gap between rich and poor in Hong Kong is deeply worrying. Hong Kong has certainly suffered from a worsening disparity between rich and poor, which not only increases the grievances of lower income people, but also leads to disharmony and instability, as well as aggravating internal conflicts and divisions in Hong Kong society.

 

2.2 It is hard to purchase a residential flat,

not to mention live well

 

Over the past decade, social and economic situations in Hong Kong have often come under criticism from the general public, particularly high property prices and rocketing rental rates.

Academics have pointed out that in countries and regions which have healthier economies, it only takes about five years for ordinary families to earn enough to pay off a mortgage on a residential flat in the urban area.

In comparison, a Hong Kong family on a median income ($19,100 in the first season of 2011) has to spend all their income on a mortgage over 11 years just for a 400-square-foot residential flat in the city area.

This is an abnormal phenomenon in which rocketing property prices have exceeded economic growth while economic growth has failed to bring improvements to the quality of life for the local citizens.

Consequently, many people are forced to live in small snail shell-like homes, or even shelter in a room in a subdivided flat or a caged hostel (Note 4).

 

2.3 Upholding justice and concern

for the disadvantaged

 

Christians hold a profound belief that the Lord loves every person in the world. However, they also believe that he loves the poor and the disadvantaged in particular and urges us to care for the marginalised in society (Note 5).

A society that neglects the rich-poor disparity is not worthy of being called an advanced or civilised society. 

Below are some principles that we must abide by in terms of social development (Note 6):

i Every society needs to draw up its own system of justice and respect the canons of justice.

ii Justice means to “give each individual what is due to him by reason of his being and his acting.” It also demands that we show recognition and respect for the legitimate rights of individuals and peoples.

iii Economic activities and policies must be in line with moral ethics and justice, and these must be adopted as their foundation.

iv Authentic social progress, including development in economy and livelihood, must observe the principle of the “centrality of the human person,” aim for “integral human development” and take into account all the dimensions of body, heart and soul of the human person.

v Looking through the perspective of a remarkably fast running globalisation, the development of human society must take into consideration the bonds, communion and sharing between individuals and among countries.

 

2.4 The urgency to enhance livelihood

 

There is a consensus among local citizens of Hong Kong that aiding the poor and eliminating such injustices as the rich-poor gap, as well as helping the middle and lower classes to purchase residential flats and make a decent living are top priorities in society.

Rather than simply being complacent about giving handouts and offering small favours, the new SAR government must relieve people’s distress by addressing problems with the intention of solving them.

We suggest that the government should take into special consideration the following:

i Formulating a comprehensive and long-term population planning policy as soon as possible;

ii Improving the distribution of social resources;

iii Reforming land and housing policies to assist local citizens in purchasing residential flats and making a decent living;

iv Promoting social mobility, enhancing opportunities for lower income people and their quality of life, developing a diversified economy and creating relevant job opportunities in management and professional sectors.

v Introducing an income subsidy scheme for people who have jobs but live in poverty and do not get the CSSA.

vi Improving employment conditions for for people with special needs, ethnic minority groups and newly-arrived people.

vii Improving retirement and old age protection policies.

 

We sincerely hope that the new SAR government and the LegCo will, with open-mindedness and foresight, heed the above-mentioned proposals for the well-being of Hong Kong society.

 

The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong

 

13 September 2012

 

END NOTES

 

1. Second Vatican Council, n.1, Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes).

 

2. Refer to n.46 “The Charter of Family Rights”, in the Apostolic Exhortation, Regarding the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World (Familiaris Consortio), issued by Pope John Paul II in 1981.

 

3. See. ibid, n.45; also refer to n.44, Encyclical Letter, Charity in Truth: on Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth (Caritas in Veritate), issued by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.

 

4. According to a report released by the Centre for Quality of Life of The Chinese University of Hong Kong on July 23 this year, the overall rating on the Hong Kong Quality of Life Index in 2011 (2002 is the base year of the study and the index is set at 100) was 102.56, 1.57 lower than in 2010. The index for 2011 is only slightly above the lowest ever recorded figure for the period after the financial crisis in 2009 and 1.64 lower than 2003 when Hong Kong was hit by SARS.

 

5. See Deuteronomy 24:10-15, 17-22; Psalms 22:27, 35:10, 76:10; Amos 8:4-7; Isaiah 61:1; Jeremiah 20:13; James 2:5; Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 6:20.

 

6. See particularly nn.6, 11, 18, 37, 42, 45, 46, 47, 53, 76, Encyclical Letter, Charity in Truth: on Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth (Caritas in Veritate), issued by Pope Benedict XVI.

We hope that the new officials in the SAR government will, as pledged, fulfil their duties with loyalty, show care for the citizens, protect and promote the common good, and develop Hong Kong society

The government should expeditiously implement a set of sustainable population policies to provide young people with more financially affordable housing and a series of family-friendly policies to help young people overcome obstacles that deter them from founding a family

As families make up the basic cell of society, its entire well-being hinges on a system for family life. What is good for the family is good for society. All families enjoy basic rights that should not be violated or tampered with

Rather than simply being complacent about giving handouts and offering small favours, the new SAR government must relieve people’s distress by addressing problems with the intention of solving them

We sincerely hope that the new SAR government and the LegCo will, with
open-mindedness and foresight, heed the above-mentioned proposals for the
well-being of Hong Kong society

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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