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A helping hand for disadvantaged children

By Allison Lee

Hong Kong, 30 December 2021: Our government’s recently released Poverty Situation Report made for distressing reading, especially with regard to the number of children in Hong Kong struggling through life in impoverished circumstances. Nearly 275,000 minors aged under 18 were living in poverty in 2020, according to the report, a figure reduced to just under 86,000 after official assistance.

In addition, over the past decades, the number of single-parent families in Hong Kong has increased significantly. It is recognised that children who grow up in single-parent families are more exposed to poverty when compared with married households. According to the report, this may be due to single parents having to look after their minor children on their own, which stops them from fully participating in the job market. The labour force participation rate of poor persons within this household group was around 24%. Among the employed persons in single-parent poor households, nearly half were part-timers or underemployed.

It should be stressed, however, that the government’s calculation methods and resulting statistics are disputed by on-the-ground campaigners and community workers, who insist the reality is much worse. The Business and Professionals Federation of Hong Kong, a non-political, non-factional think tank, has been particularly vocal in challenging the official figures.

A recent survey by the Society for Community Organization revealed some 80% of underprivileged children have to do housework or care for family members; almost a third spend more than eight hours a week helping at home; and some resort to selling waste paper and cardboard to help their families make ends meet.

Such grinding poverty creates additional burdens for families, thus magnifying concerns regarding child welfare and potential breaches of children’s rights, areas of considerable relevance to Family Law practitioners. Any measures which alleviate such situations are to be welcomed.

Hence, it is worth noting that the ninth round of Child Development Fund (CDF) projects will be launched in the first quarter of 2022. These schemes provide youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds with personal development opportunities to reduce intergenerational poverty.

The CDF, founded in 2008 under the umbrella of the Labour and Welfare Bureau, aims to promote the long-term development of children aged 10 to 16 from disadvantaged backgrounds through collaboration between families, community groups, the private sector and government. Working with NGOs and schools, the CDF projects encourage children to plan for their future, develop a savings habit, and accumulate intangible assets such as positive attitudes, personal resilience and social networks.

Each project comprises three key components designed to broaden the child’s horizons, enhance their abilities and personal qualities, and enrich their social experiences.

  • Targeted Savings: Participants are encouraged to set a monthly savings target of HK$200 over a two-year period. Corporate and private donors, together with the government, contribute to a 1:1:1 matching fund for the savings, thus reaching a total of HK$14,400.
  • Personal Development Plan: Children are challenged to identify their long term vision and take measures that are achievable in the short term to pursue this target. Implementing the plan helps them acquire knowledge, learn new skills and improve self-esteem. In the third year of their CDF project, they can make use of their targeted savings to implement their plan.
  • Mentorship: Each child is matched with an adult mentor who offers advice and guidance in helping their young charge realise their ambitions. They meet regularly to share life experiences and work towards goals. Mentors come from all backgrounds. Many have enthused how they learn as much from the programme as the child.

Since the CDF was established, the government has injected some HK$900 million for NGOs and schools to roll out 240 projects across the territory, benefiting more than 21,000 children.

Four years ago, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University was invited to conduct a study into the effectiveness of CDF projects. It found participants were more likely to develop a savings habit, attain higher education levels, obtain professional qualifications, earn a higher salary and enjoy better mental health. 

Significantly, the study revealed that families of CDF participants were less likely to require financial assistance from the Social Welfare Department. In this respect, it appears the CDF is succeeding in its aim of alleviating intergenerational poverty.

A Senior Associate with BC&C, Allison Lee is experienced in matrimonial and family matters, having worked with local and expatriate clients on applications for divorce, separation, financial disputes, asset division, maintenance and child’s custody and care arrangements. She also has experience in general civil litigation. She can be contacted at allison@boasecohencollins.com.

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