How Child Well-Being is Reflected in the Budget of Hong Kong

How Child Well-Being is Reflected in the Budget of Hong Kong

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child announced General Comment No. 19 on Public Budgeting for the Realization of Children’s Rights in 2016. The Committee underlines the importance of the community having access to detailed, user-friendly information about the situation of children and a clear understanding of how budget proposals aim to improve children’s well-being and advance their rights. For this reason, we have conducted a Budget Research on the Budget Estimates of the HKSAR Government for the year of 2018/2019. Budget Research is also important in finding out how key child-related government bureaus and departments spend money on children as a way to reflect the true priorities of our child-related policies and whether these policies can take care of the different aspects of child well-being. The importance of considering child well-being in policy-making

Lack of Clear Spending on Children

The UN Committee requires every government to identify which budget allocations directly target children, and which budget allocations indirectly affect children.

In the 2018/2019 Budget Estimates, however, it is not easy to see clear public budgeting on children making the children’s perspective unclear and abstract. There is a lack of disaggregated data on children, and their needs are often incorporated into the general mass.

Bureau / Department Policy Area Budget Estimates for 2018/19
Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau (CMAB) Rights of the Individual (including children) $30.3 million
Department of Health (DH) Disease Prevention (including children) $6,032.5 million
Labour and Welfare Bureau (LWB) Social Welfare (including children) $442.9 million
Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) Recreation and Sports (including children) $ 4,180.7 million
Social Welfare Department (SWD) Services for Offenders (including children) $379.5 million

Even though there is some description on the projects and services related to children, the community is still confused in the budget maze of public spending on children. Neither the percentage nor the estimated amount to be spent on children have been indicated.

Lack of Comprehensive and Reliable Data on Children

Every government needs reliable, timely, accessible and comprehensive disaggregated information and data in reusable formats on the child rights situation, both current and projected. Such information is fundamental to creating legislation, policies and programmes to directly or indirectly target and advance the rights of the child. For this reason, every government has a need to establish and maintain a database of all policies and resources affecting children so that those involved in implementing and monitoring the corresponding programmes and services have ongoing access to objective and reliable information. Overseas child well-being frameworks

In Hong Kong, no specific government department is responsible for handling child data. Child data are scattered among government departments and some data are not open for public use. The age groups used by the Census and Statistics Department are 0-4, 5-9, 10-14 and 15-19 and this makes it hard to focus on analyzing and comparing conditions of children under 18. And these data is mostly generic, with no specific data on children in special circumstances.

In our previous investigation Child Rights Review on Hidden Harm followed the tragic death of Yeung Chi-wai, a 5-year-old boy with down syndrome and was under the care of adults with drug behaviours, we discovered that government has no data on children caught in similar situation. However, our research found at least 11 kids were abused, neglected, poisoned, dropped from height, injured or even died as a result of parental substance abuse in 2013-15. Drug related data is mainly attributed by the Central Registry of Drug Abuse (CRDA) at present. While there is data related to drug abuse population, frequency and locality of abusing drugs, economic activity status, criminal record… and so on, the Registry however has no data on the number of children under the care of substance abuse parents or carers. This is particularly worrisome, as the current data indicates that the majority of drug abusers use drugs at home or at their friend’s home (80%). Yeung Chi-wai also died at home where his mother and his mother’s boyfriend had drug behaviours.

Many important data reflects the challenging situation that children are facing. However, it is only given one-off upon replying a question raised by a politician for example (below), and is not systematically collected and revealed for public monitoring in a sustainable manner. The public has no idea if the situation has been improved, and the service providers also lack information to plan for service provision.

Children with disabilities aged below 18 residing in domestic households (including restriction in body movement, seeing difficulty, hearing difficulty, speech difficulty, mental illness / mood disorder, autism, specific learning difficulties and attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder) 24,000
(Year 2013)
Number of disabled persons aged under 18 not studying 900
(Year 2013)

No. of children with disabilities not receiving school education in 2013

In the Budget Estimates of 2018/2019, we could not see information on how the budget statements have been prepared with reference to the data related to children. The public is head scratching and is difficult to monitor if the public money has been spent in an effective and efficient way by just looking at the budget statement in the current format.

Lack of Consideration for Children in Different Circumstances

Every government in planning the budget has to ensure available information on the situation of children is disaggregated in useful ways considering different groups of children and the principle of ‘non-discrimination’ in article 2 of the Convention. State parties are obliged to protect children from all kinds of discrimination “irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status”. States parties, at all administrative levels, should serve to prevent discrimination and shall not directly or indirectly discriminate against children in budget-related legislation, policies or programmes, in their content or implementation.

In the 2018/2019 budget estimates, the needs of children under different circumstances are rarely reflected, and the provision of services are usually mixed with the general public. The specific needs of vulnerable children are totally blurred in the public budget. Let’s look at the policy description of one of the policy areas ‘Recreation and Sports’ under the Leisure and Cultural Services Department in the budget estimates as an example.

Department Policy Area Policy Description
Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) Recreation and Sports
  • Formulating policies and strategies for the provision of leisure and sports facilities and activities with particular focus on physical fitness and sports safety;
  • Developing and managing leisure facilities such as sports centres, parks and gardens, swimming pools, gazetted beaches and holiday camps;
  • Organising recreation, sports and leisure activities;
  • Providing subvention to “national sports associations” (NSAs) and sports organisations for training athletes and organising sports activities; and
  • Providing subvention to 24 holiday camps and sea activity centres managed by 11 non-government organisations to provide recreational activities for members of the public.

The policy description, however, has no particular mention on children, and it has no explanation on how these policies, strategies, facilities, activities and programmes could benefit children with disabilities, children with long-term illness, children with ethnic minority origins and cultural background, children with territorial difference…etc, who apparently need additional support so as to enjoy the equal rights of leisure and play with other children and people. We however cannot see the government allocate any additional resources for the building of facilities that particularly suit their needs.

Lack of Qualitative Indicators

State parties are obliged to use clear and consistent qualitative and quantitative goals and indicators to illustrate the progressive realization of children’s economic, social and cultural rights to the maximum extent of available resources, as well as the realization of the immediate obligations imposed by those rights. Governments have the duty to explain why and how public money is spent with clear indicators. The qualitative indicators, however, are rare in the 2018-2019 budget estimates. If we look at the Policy Area of ‘Family and Child Welfare’ of the Social Welfare Department, we could only see the number of out-of-home care places, the enrolment rate, and the amount to be spent per place. However, we could not see the qualitative data, for example, the average duration of a child needs to spend in alternative care; the average waiting time for such a placement… etc. If these are not being touched on, it is difficult to evaluate if the public money is actually spent on realizing the rights of children in needy or even risky situation.

It is the same case for child protection cases that need supervision, child adoption, and cases that need clinical psychological support, the indicators are only reflected by the number of cases. This provides meagre information on how the rights of children entitled could be realized.

Social Welfare Department – Policy Area of ‘Family and Child Welfare’ in the 2018-19 Budget Estimates

Indicators 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19

Foster Care

No. of places

Enrolment rate (%)

Cost per place per month ($)

 

1,070

86

13,076

 

1,130

84

15,004

 

1,130

84

17,595

Small Group Homes (SGHs)

No. of places

Enrolment rate (%)

Cost per place per month ($)

 

864

93

20,943

 

894

91

22,194

 

894

91

25,444

Residential Homes for Children (RHCs)

No. of places

Enrolment rate (%)

Cost per place per month ($)

 

1,708

82

17,616

 

1,778

84

18,205

 

1,778

84

20,751

Standalone Child Care Centres

No. of places

Enrolment rate (%)

Cost per place per month ($)

 

738

100

822

 

747

100

1,649

 

895

100

1,762

Occasional Child Care (OCC)

No. of units

 

217

 

217

 

217

Family and Child Protection

Supervision cases served

Cost per case per month ($)

 

7,341

2,363

 

7,270

2,370

 

7,292

2,552

Adoption

Children available for adoption placed in local homes within three months

 

51

 

45

 

45

Clinical Psychological Support

Assessment cases served

Treatment cases served

 

2,253

1,006

 

2,328

1,134

 

2,328

1,134

The objective of the General Comment No. 19 on Public Budgeting for the Realization of Children’s Rights (2016) announced by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child is aimed to improve understanding of the obligations under the Convention in relation to budgeting for children’s rights so as to strengthen the realization of those rights, and to promote real change in the way budgets are planned, enacted, executed and followed up in order to advance implementation of the Convention and its Optional Protocols. State parties of the Convention are asked to follow through at the maximum extent.

A well thought child well-being framework developed would definitely assist governments in doing child rights situation analysis and preparing budget to meet the needs of children fall into different circumstances.

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