Children come first?

Our Community — By on March 31, 2017 12:32 PM
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Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung

Legislator and social work lecturer Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung also agrees with the idea of the Children’s Bill and with co-parenting in theory. But he wonders if it can live up to its claims. Cheung says that in its current form, it is too idealistic and ignores the systematic limitations of our society.

“The bill keeps on emphasising ‘the best interest of the child’, but which mechanism in our service system is going to represent or actively seek for the opinion of the child?” says Cheung. While the proposed bill allows children to have their own legal representation, it is in fact the parents who would be responsible for their legal fees. “Then the bill is just a slogan, ‘best interest of the child’, when in reality there is nothing you can ensure for the children.”

Cheung stresses the importance of having a well-supported social welfare service system in place before promoting joint parental responsibility and the bill. For instance, the establishment of a regulatory body to ensure parents pay alimony and fulfil other financial responsibilities. As it is, and without such support systems in place, Cheung says the bill would only do more harm than good if it were implemented.

Puja Kapai, an associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, agrees the bill should be implemented in tandem with reforms and improvements to the system. She stresses the need for front-line personnel to approach custody cases and cases involving family violence with more sensitivity and caution. Kapai says that police too often overlook the fact that physical violence is not the only kind of violence. Consequently, their incident reports do not detail the significance of the violence inflicted on victims.

Kapai acknowledges the Children’s Bill is progressive in some ways, provided both parents are keen to put the child’s interests first, even if they cannot get along. However co-parenting can also put the victims of abuse in a vulnerable position.

She and other critics will be hoping the current proposals will be revised to take cases of family violence into account and to alternative options for judges in such cases. The public consultation exercise ended last March and the Labour and Welfare Bureau will consider public submissions before taking the bill through to the next stage of the legislative process.

Kapai for one is hoping for improvements. “I would be wary of saying that this is the best that we can do. I think we can do much better,” she says.

Edited by: Megan Leung

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