Human Trafficking in Hong KongHuman trafficking is a persistent problem all around the world, including in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region located in the People’s Republic of China. The Justice Centre Hong Kong produced a study in 2016 on human trafficking in Hong Kong and it was found that one in six of the 370,000 migrant workers in the city were forced labor victims. While Hong Kong does take steps to eradicate human trafficking, it is important to study human trafficking in every region of the world so that it can be prevented in the future.

Recent Changes and Legislation

Lawmakers in Hong Kong proposed that the government pass an anti-slavery bill based on Great Britain’s “Modern Slavery Act.” However, two of those lawmakers, Dennis Kwok and Kenneth Leung, were removed from Parliament, leaving many questioning whether the bill would ever get passed. A member of The Mekong Club, a group in Hong Kong dedicated to fighting modern slavery said, “There is little chance that this important bill will move forward.” This, in conjunction with the current protests in Hong Kong likely means that lawmakers have had little time to focus on anti-human trafficking legislation.

Another recent development on human trafficking in the nation is that in mid-2020 the U.S. demoted Hong Kong from Tier 2 on the Trafficking in Persons Report to Tier 2 Watch List, suggesting that Hong Kong “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.” The government of Hong Kong disputed the U.S. human trafficking report’s claims, arguing that the report was not based on evidence and looks at minor flaws rather than the big picture.

Hong Kong’s Approach to Resolving Human Trafficking

One problem with the nation’s current anti-human trafficking legislation is that the city only defines human trafficking as “involving cross-border sex trafficking for prostitution,” which means the legislation does not cover “labor exploitation, debt bondage, domestic servitude or similar practices.” Unfortunately, the legal system can make it difficult for those who are trafficked in Hong Kong to get the help they need or support from legal authorities.

While anti-human trafficking laws could be amended, lawmakers and academics have shown there are creative solutions to the problem. Reed Smooth Richards Butler, a law firm, worked with Liberty Asia, an anti-slavery charity, to create the Legal Gap Analysis report, which explains how other laws can be used to persecute human traffickers. For example, individuals responsible could be arrested for false imprisonment rather than human trafficking directly. Creative efforts like these are important to find solutions to salient issues, including the trafficking of people.

Protecting Human Rights

While the government can certainly improve its response to human trafficking in Hong Kong, the country has implemented many measures to help reduce human trafficking and protect human rights. Human trafficking needs addressing and analyzing the nuances in human trafficking policy can help incapacitate the industry globally.

Madelynn Einhorn
Photo: Flickr

coffin homesFor years, Hong Kong has remained the most expensive city in the world, with property prices averaging $2,091 per square foot. The effects of globalization and an increasing population density have worsened the wealth inequality in the region. While Hong Kong’s GDP per capita is nearly $50,000, a recent census found that one in five Hong Kong residents are living in poverty. As the city becomes more crowded, many low-income residents can only afford to live in Hong Kong’s “coffin homes.” These subdivided units make up almost 20% of Hong Kong’s housing. They are frequently overcrowded, unsanitary and windowless. Accordingly, the families living in these homes have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Children cannot go outside, have difficulty keeping up with online learning and often experience financial and emotional stress. Fortunately, organizations like the Society for Community Organization (SoCO) are using grassroots political activism to advocate for impacted families.

Hong Kong’s Coffin Homes

Photos taken by AP photographer Kin Cheung show individuals living in housing units as small as six by three feet. Many are closet-sized, tucked into larger rooms with communal bathrooms and kitchens. These subdivided units are full of mattresses, clothing, TVs and trash. Many don’t have room for residents to stand or sleep, and residents report cockroach and bed bug infestations.

A 2016 census estimated that 209,700 Hong Kong citizens were living in subdivided units. The median monthly income of residents was $1,741 a month, with many of them working in food services. Residents struggle as COVID-19 has forced the closure of nearby restaurants, limiting the number of customers. The South China Morning Post reports that, from January through March 2020, revenue from the food and beverage industry in Hong Kong dropped more than 30%. A survey of low-income adults, conducted in early March 2020, found that 38% of had lost their jobs. As Hong Kong experiences its third wave of COVID-19, residents continue to face unemployment.

COVID-19 and Hong Kong’s Children

SoCO reports that one-fourth of Hong Kong’s children live below the poverty line. Around 50,000 children live in small apartments, rooftop huts or subdivided units. Online learning presents serious struggles for these students, as almost 70% of low-income students in Hong Kong surveyed by SoCO did not own computers. Almost 30% also lacked broadband internet access.

In addition to limited learning, children are more likely to experience long-term psychological effects as a result of home confinement. Oftentimes, children living in Hong Kong’s coffin homes do not have space to be active and, due to COVID-19, cannot go outside. Financial stress, limited social interaction, minimal personal space and boredom can cause long-term psychological harm. A survey of parents by the University of California in Los Angeles found that after quarantining, 30% of children met the criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. All of these effects are exacerbated for children living coffin homes. Additionally, the cramped and unsanitary spaces allow COVID-19 to spread at higher rates.

Grassroots Advocacy for Hong Kong’s Impoverished

SoCO is an NGO that works in Hong Kong to minimize wealth inequality. SoCO aids a variety of Hong Kong citizens impacted by poverty by teaching political involvement and community advocacy. For those living in Hong Kong’s “coffin homes,” the organization pushes for rent controls, the building of more public housing and financial support. Additionally, SoCO collects data on issues impacting children to assess the top 10 concerns to bring to the government’s attention. This inspires children under 18 to understand and advocate for their rights. SoCO has also partnered with smaller organizations to provide physical activities and free classes for children.

As conditions in Hong Kong worsen, low-income families and those living in “coffin homes” cannot be ignored. Children may suffer the most due to home confinement, limited school access and financial stress. While there is no immediate solution, organizations like SoCO continue their work throughout the pandemic to ensure that the government remains aware of the major wealth and education inequalities in Hong Kong.

Ann Marie Vanderveen
Photo: Flickr

Cost of Living in Hong Kong
Just like its skyscrapers, the cost of living in Hong Kong is among the highest anywhere in the world. In a Mercer survey published in June 2017, Hong Kong was named the second most expensive city globally for expatriates to live and first among developed nations.

Hong Kong is a destination city for businesses and professionals alike, boasting over 4,000 individuals worth over $30 million each. Many businesses have found Hong Kong to be one of the most agreeable cities to reside in due to the low 16.5% corporate tax rate.

For the less fortunate, however, the cost of living in Hong Kong is confining– literally.

With a monthly wage of $2,652, the average Hong Kong citizen spends most of their earnings on rent alone. The smallest apartments in Hong Kong cost around $1,000 per month, with more spacious units ranging from $2,000-2,500 before utilities. Many Hong Kong residents work longer hours and split small flats into sleeping cubicles in order to save on rent.

With so much disposable income being eaten up by housing costs, many residents face the very real problem of food insecurity. Going out to restaurants has become a luxury, as many people must now rely on charitable donations and government assistance to eat.

For Hong Kong’s poorest, those living on less than $328 a month, the cost of rent in Hong Kong makes living in the city unsustainable. Over 30% of the city’s elderly population lives in poverty, while the wealthiest families make over 44 times what the average citizen makes.

Economists have urged the government of Hong Kong to institute universal incomes and pensions to prevent the wealth gap from widening. Efforts to address the growing wealth inequality in the country must be made with urgency for the sake of Hong Kong’s struggling citizens.

Thomas James Anania

Photo: Pixabay

Common Diseases in Hong Kong
Hong Kong’s socio-economic advancement has both improved and deteriorated the status of its public health. While infectious diseases are no longer considered a common threat to citizens, illnesses correlated with societal improvement have emerged as common diseases in Hong Kong. The current medical burdens for Hong Kong are long-term illnesses such as obesity, respiratory illnesses and dementia.

With greater food security and economic prosperity comes greater liberty to choose the desired quality and quantity of food sources. An increasingly urban population hungry for the convenience of Western fast-food cuisine has made obesity one of the most common diseases in Hong Kong. A highly susceptible target of obesity in Hong Kong is its middle class; cheaper, high-calorie meals combined with an increasingly sedentary lifestyle strain the status of health for this social class. Although Hong Kong is a high-income region of China, it chooses to buy nutritionally deficient food for accessibility and indulgence.

Poor air quality and the prevalence of smoking among adults make respiratory illnesses an increasing concern. The National Health Center for Biotechnology Information claims that “respiratory disease is responsible for the highest health-care burden locally. Increased efforts in improving management and prevention of these diseases, including tobacco control, improving air quality and vaccination against influenza and pneumococci, are necessary.” Three million deaths induced by respiratory illness associated with smoking occur per year; this statistic is expected to increase to 10 million by 2025 (with two million of those deaths taking place in China) according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Addressing Hong Kong’s poor air quality due to industrial carbon emissions and social attitude towards smoking is unavoidable for the future of public health.

Hong Kong’s high life expectancy comes with its drawbacks. With an increasingly older population, dementia is becoming more prevalent among Hong Kong’s citizens. The lack of care facilities specializing in treatment for dementia adds pressure to the medical epidemic. However, the increasing presence of the disease has brought with it awareness, and thus it has received national attention. This awareness may be helpful in accommodating dementia sufferers with more treatment centers and medical options.

Mobilization is the most effective solution, due to the socioeconomic-induced nature of these common diseases in Hong Kong. Citizens must promote and sustain healthier models of living for the health of the public as well as the environment. Through integrated cooperation of Hong Kong’s citizens, corporations and the government, the adverse effects can slow down, creating a healthier future.

Kaitlin Hocker

Photo: Flickr

For the past decade, an overwhelming number of incidents involving the suicides of school-aged children in Hong Kong occurred. Since 2013, more than 70 student suicides have been reported. In February alone, three happened over an eight-day period. This issue has greatly contributed to cries for increased mental health awareness in Hong Kong.

Part of the concern always revolved around the academic intensity of Hong Kong’s education system. However, the Legislative Council denies the connection. The chairman of the Committee on Prevention of Student Suicides, University of Hong Kong’s Professor Paul Yip Siu-Fai, says a number of factors contribute to each case, so the issue cannot be viewed as academic rigor alone.

The Committee on Prevention of Student Suicides formed in response to the influx of student suicides over the 2016 academic year. A total of 35 students took their own lives, with at least one as young as 11 years old. The Committee recommends that schools and families work together to address all contributing factors. Specifically targeting academic strain, personal relationships, access to mental health services and non-academic hobbies to improve mental health awareness.

The Education Bureau is currently under the process of taking these recommendations into consideration. Part of the program would include a more effective provision of counseling and mental health services to students, encouragement of extracurricular accomplishments and training to recognize and address the warning signs of serious mental health conditions in students.

Another facet of addressing increasing rates of student suicides is ensuring proper media coverage. This means that the media reports on the issues and the specific cases, rather than neglecting them, and doing so in a way that succeeds in not sensationalizing the issues of suicide and mental health awareness in Hong Kong.

Jaime Viens

Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Hong Kong
Hong Kong’s growth in the global financial economy has made the country a beacon of rapid development and opulence. Behind the image of luxurious expansion lurks a harsh reality of inequality and growing rates of hunger. A Hong Kong nonprofit aims to help the city’s bounty feed all.

As a major port city and a booming hub of global trade, Hong Kong’s GDP continues to grow. Trading Economics’ data indicates that Hong Kong’s GDP growth in 2016 has nearly doubled since its GDP growth in 2015. This wealth, however, is distributed disproportionately.

The CIA World Factbook designates Hong Kong’s level of income inequality as the tenth worst in the world, and the U.N. Development Program claims Hong Kong has the highest level of income inequality among highly developed nations.

Data on poverty and hunger illuminate these inequities. According to Trading Economics, the poverty line in Hong Kong is HK$ 3,275 per month (about $422) with an hourly minimum wage of HK$ 32 (roughly $4). Twenty percent of Hong Kong’s population currently lives below this threshold, leaving many citizens food insecure.

In light of these concerns, the South China Morning Post reported that the U.N. considered opening a World Food Program (WFP) office in Hong Kong in 2013, citing the region as an appropriate candidate for further attention.

However, the U.N. never established an office, leaving Hong Kong without a concrete inter-governmental organization to deal with the growing issue of food insecurity. Gabrielle Kirstein, co-founder and executive director of Feeding Hong Kong, aimed to address hunger in Hong Kong by creating a nonprofit that would divert food waste to feed those in need.

Feeding Hong Kong (FHK) is a self-proclaimed “Hong Kong food bank with a difference.” By accepting usable food donations from corporate partners, restaurants, grocery stores and delis, FHK creates a supply chain that directs surplus food into the hands of over 25 charities and community organizations that address poverty and hunger. It is the only nonprofit of its kind in Hong Kong.

To ensure the continued effectiveness of the program, FHK thoughtfully distributes the food it collects to its constituent organizations. For example, FHK deliberately addresses the needs of children’s welfare programs differently than those of adults. FHK aims to address hunger in Hong Kong by supporting these already established organizations in their endeavors to provide essential services.

FHK functions in a dense urban environment by harnessing the resources around it. For FHK’s annual event, “Chefs in the Community,” culinary professionals volunteer with local charities to improve their food services. The Feeding Hong Kong Cookbook Collection is sold to generate funds for the nonprofit, while spreading awareness of how to reduce food waste, even in a personal kitchen setting.

Despite growing rates of hunger in Hong Kong, FHK has established a network to solve several issues associated with rapid urban development. By creating an organization that supports those around it, FHK aims to spread the wealth of the nation by eradicating hunger, one meal at a time.

Laurel Klafehn

Photo: Flickr

poverty in hong kong
According to a study conducted by Professor Maggie Lau of the City University of Hong Kong in the Department of Public Policy research shows that poverty in Hong Kong is vast.

Dr. Lau’s study aims to focus on various socio-economic groups in order to understand how poverty affects these different groups. The groups include lone parents, couples with children, those without children, single adults and the elderly. The research conducted on these different demographics serves to specify which groups in particular are facing the highest levels of poverty.

Recently, Hong Kong fell in the rankings for being a “livable city” due to the high cost of living and large population. With a widening inequality gap, the wealthier are accruing more while the poor are falling more deeply into poverty. Aid in the form of government services is relatively nonexistent.

“Some of the poor are moving from temporary poverty to chronic poverty and intergenerational poverty,” according to Liu Yuanchun, director of the National Academy of Development and Strategy at Renmin University of China.

Chronic poverty is linked to structural poverty meaning that they do not benefit from economic growth. This type of poverty is described as “chronic” because the affected populations are entrenched in poverty for the majority of their lives.

“This means that understanding the manifestations, attributes and social dynamics of chronic poverty to develop additional national and international interventions is crucial.” The underlying cultural and social context of poverty in Hong Kong must be understood in order to develop policies that are effective.

Poverty is becoming institutionalized in the city center where social services and government intervention is lacking. About one out of seven million of the inhabitants of Hong Kong are living in poverty.

The dynamic and rich culture that Hong Kong attracts money and professionals from all over the world. However, it’s falling in terms of its livability standards there are other city centers that offer many of the same features flike Singapore and Tokyo.

The prices of property were raised to astronomical levels in 2003 when the price of housing went up over 300 percent. Although small government in business is a popular staple of life in Hong Kong, government intervention needs to be more urgent or people will begin moving to other places to do business.

– Maxine Gordon

Sources: Poverty and Social Exclusion in Hong Kong, China Daily 1, China Daily 2, Market Watch, Chronic Poverty Research Center
Photo: Daily Mail UK

Chinese Control
Thousands of Hong Kong citizens are protesting the ever-tightening grip of Chinese control over the city. While some of the anger stems from China’s influence regarding Hong Kong’s media and politics, the main issue of the demonstration is in regards to the economic changes and the belief that, in the 17 years since Hong Kong was given back to China, wealth inequality and economic opportunity have not improved.

Currently, around two million people live in public housing, which is about 30 percent of Hong Kong’s population, and one-fifth of the population lives below the poverty line. According to Hong Kong’s government, poverty is only getting worse. The poverty gap increased to $28.8 billion in 2012, compared with $25.4 billion in 2009. Worse, its income inequality is the 12th highest in the world.

“It’s not like the 70’s and 80’s where we know our salary is going up next year or we’ll get a promotion,” said Li Kui-Wai, an economics professor at the City University of Hong Kong. “Our economy is not as good as [it] used to be.”

However, economists and Hong Kong’s government do not agree with the notion that China has anything to do with the economic disparity facing Hong Kong. The government believes that the immigration of low-skilled workers into the city along with an aging population are the reasons for economic woe. The government has pointed out that unemployment has remained low, at around 3.1 percent, which is the lowest it’s been since the late 90’s. Additionally, they argue that their trade relationship with China is vital.

Despite assurances from economists and the government, the citizens of Hong Kong believe that China is the influence behind the economic problems. The sight of well-to-do Chinese people entering the city every day to buy luxury items hasn’t helped the government’s case. Additionally, many Chinese give birth to their children in Hong Kong so that they  will be granted Hong Kong citizenship; consequently, this limits the stock of baby formula available.  In addition, a proposal to turn a plot of northern Hong Kong into luxury and retail space, which would remove 6,000 farmers and villagers from their homes, is not easing tensions, either.

Even the wealthy are drawn into the debate, as the wealthiest man in Asia recently stated that the widening income gap and dissolving trust in the government will become the sentiment of the majority.

Over 700,000 people voted in an unofficial referendum to not allow China to continue to control their elections.

“Part of the reason for the activism in the city is the sense that many of the young people feel that the system is unfair, that it is skewed to helping the rich,” said David Zweig, a political science professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Many Hong Kong citizens have joined a group called Occupy Central, their version of Occupy Wall Street, to speak out against the wealth inequality, pay gap and limited job opportunities.

Monica Newell

Sources: Quartz, Bloomberg
Photo: Fiji One

At the end of June, 787,000 people in the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong voted in a nonbinding referendum that pushed for more democracy. The votes were cast in order to decide the means for allowing Hong Kong residents to nominate candidates for the city’s chief executive. The unexpectedly high turnout shows that citizens of Hong Kong do not like the Chinese government’s plans to reform.

In 1997, when Hong Kong was handed back to China from Britain, China agreed to handle the city under the thought of “one country, two systems,” where Hong Kong had a lot of autonomy, but China still has comprehensive jurisdiction over the city.

Because of this, the city has its own legal system and protection over its freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. The referendum became Hong Kong’s way of showing its frustration with the amount of freedom and autonomy it is hoping for in the future.

The winning proposal from the referendum was proposed by the Alliance for True Democracy, and allows candidates to be nominated by 35,000 registered voters, or by any political party that had secured at least 5 percent of the vote in the last election for Hong King’s legislative committee.

The ballot also had the option to vote that the legislature should veto any proposal that “cannot satisfy international standards allowing genuine choices by electors,” which more than 87 percent of voters agreed to. The ballot also proposed that the public, a nominating committee and political parties could name candidates for the chief executive position.

China’s State Cabinet released a statement degrading the referendum as illegal and invalid, saying those who organized it were breaching the rule of law and holding back the process of universal suffrage. The statement also said that the chief executive for Hong Kong must be someone who loves Hong Kong as well as China.

The citizens of Hong Kong fear that the nominating committee will be a way that China can weed out whoever they disapprove of for the position, and people of Hong Kong want a process where candidates not perceived as loyal to the Chinese government can still stand a chance in the election process.

The 10-day referendum was organized by a group called Occupy Central with Peace and Love, and it proposed planning sit-ins and other nonviolent protests if the election rules don’t meet what it considers “international standards.”

Chen Jianmin, one of the founders of Occupy Central, believes the protests could soon turn violent. Speaking of this possibility, he said: “We have been witnessing more and more physical confrontation during protests and I believe that more young people are willing to go to jail or even to confront the police and the government with their own bodies.”

July 1, 2014 marked the 17th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover back to China, and this day each year tens of thousands of people march the streets of Hong Kong for the annual pro-democracy rally.

Protesters marched the street, criticizing the leadership of Hong Kong’s current chief executive, CY Leung, seeing him as a “Beijing loyalist.” The city is planning on reaching a full democracy by 2017.

One protestor states: “I am here to fight for democracy and freedom. If Hong Kong people did not come out to fight for our freedom, we would lose it in the future.”

Some marchers even held up Hong Kong’s colonial flag, used before 1997 when Hong Kong was a British colony, in order to show their anti-China beliefs.

Occupy Central has stated that if the Hong Kong government does not come up with a proposal for the 2017 election that meets the international standards for democracy, the group will get 10,000 people for a sit-in protest in Hong Kong’s financial district. A protest like this could harm the economic development of Hong Kong, as well as mainland China, making it a legitimate threat.

— Courtney Prentice

Sources: LA Times, BBC 1, BBC 2,
Photo: BBC

Successful Education Systems
Most countries around the world claim to make education a priority for their children, but some countries outshine others. The education group, Pearson, created a list of the top 20 most successful education systems. Factors like international test scores, graduation rates, amount of people pursuing higher education and other things are considered. But what is it that differentiates these nations from the average ones? What characteristics of the systems of the top five countries award them their ranking? Let’s take a look at the characteristics of the best of the best.


Top 5 Education Systems in the World


1. Finland- Finland’s success begins with its teachers. They are chosen from the top 10 percent of college graduates and are required to obtain a master’s degree in education. In the classroom, teachers are entrusted with the success of their students. There is not a strictly outlined curriculum; instead, teachers are able to do what is necessary to see their students improve. In Finland, 30 percent of students receive special tutoring .

2. South Korea- South Korea has invested heavily in education over the past decade. By making education a priority, young people are more willing to pursue higher education. The value of an education in South Korea is highly revered. Young people understand that obtaining a degree is the best way to ensure success later in life. A lot of pressure has been put on South Korean students, creating a competitive atmosphere in which each student wants to thrive.

3. Hong Kong- Hong Kong provides 12 years of free public schooling for every student. These schools are very structured and organized, ensuring that each student is receiving the same education. Teachers, administrators and the government are all invested in student success. Hong Kong school systems put a lot of emphasis on parent and community participation in the education of their students. Parents are devoted to helping their children both in the classroom and outside the classroom, including helping with homework and studying for exams.

4. Japan- The Japanese education system is based heavily in producing well-rounded students. From an early age, students take classes in all the regular subjects, but also take art, homemaking, music and physical education. By putting an emphasis on these subjects, students are able to learn a wide range of skills and to apply them to other subjects. The pre-high and high school years are the most important for Japanese students, as this is a time when many exams are taken to secure entrance into the best high schools.

5. Singapore- Much of Singapore’s education system consists of high-stakes examinations. Teachers are encouraged to teach what is going to be on these exams and to do it in a way that students will understand. Students from all of Singapore receive the same education because they take the same exams. Teaching is coherent and effective. Singapore also makes education a financial priority, allowing schools to have the best resources and teachers possible.

– Hannah Cleveland

Sources: CIEB, Education in Japan, Huffington Post, ICEF Monitor, MBC Times, Smithsonian Magazine, The Conversation
Photo: Smithsonian