Experiencing human rights in Hong Kong
Justice Labs mentor Lindsay Ernst directs an innovative program at the Univesity of Hong Kong called "Human Rights in Practice." This is an editorial her students wrote about their experiences working with "hard to place" children in Hong Kong's adoption system.
Hong Kong Free Press
11 November 2015
November 9 has been designated as World Adoption Day. The event, which is only two years old and has yet to be recognised by the UN, aims to raise awareness about adoption and to celebrate adoption worldwide.
Adoption is more common in Hong Kong than many people may realise. According to statistics from the Social Welfare Department, at the end of June of this year the department was handling over 200 adoption applications. In 2015 alone, over 60 children were matched with families.
However, despite the large numbers of children who are successfully adopted, there remains a sizeable number of children in Hong Kong who are still in search of permanent loving families to care for them. The majority of waiting children are those considered “hard to place,” including children with special needs, older children, or children who are part of a sibling group.
As of June of this year, around 80 children were still waiting to be adopted, and 50 of these were children with special needs. A group of law students at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) has received a unique opportunity to work on real life legal issues affecting local children.
These students are working closely with the local partner organization, Mother’s Choice, a non-profit organization that provides support for young girls facing crisis pregnancy and care for children in need of a permanent home. The work has given them an eye-opening experience into this often hidden side of Hong Kong. Through their ‘Human Rights in Practice’ course, the students are assisting the NGO by undertaking research into the laws and issues around adoption, foster care, and children in need of care, not only in Hong Kong, but also internationally.
There is growing awareness around the issue of special needs children in Hong Kong, but the problem is still one that needs to be addressed. One of the HKU law students participating in the class, Rebecca Morrison, reported being surprised by this trend and the difficulties faced by children with special needs. “More awareness is needed to reduce prejudice and promote acceptance of the need to find a stable home in Hong Kong for all children, regardless of their age or disability,” Morrison said.
This trend is also true worldwide; an older child or one with special needs may struggle the most to find willing adoptive parents. As a result, these children often grow up in institutions or foster care.
Growing up in institutional care has serious consequences for children’s development. Studies have shown that children who grow up in institutions rather than a loving home environment are more likely to suffer from poor physical development and lifelong physical, social, and psychological problems. The harm caused by institutional care inevitably falls not only on these children, but on society as a whole. Children who grow up in institutional care are statistically more likely to enter the criminal justice system or rely on social welfare services later in life.
Through the course, the law students have been given the opportunity to delve into these complex issues and to conduct in-depth research on the laws protecting children in Hong Kong. “There is some good law already on the books, but more can be done to strengthen the adoption system and legal protections for children. Hopefully, after the course and working with Mother’s Choice, we’ll become stronger advocates for Hong Kong’s children, use our legal knowledge to support local families, and inspire others to do the same,” the students said.
Human Rights in Practice is an experiential learning-based course at the University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law taught by Part-time Lecturer Lindsay Ernst, with the assistance of legal fellows Jennifer Cheung and Stephanie Persson.