Christian Service News
Issue 59 (April 2008)
Views on Discussion Drafts of Amendments to the Race Discrimination Bill
In the past, HKCS has expressed our opinions on the aforementioned Bill, specifically in the areas of language and education to the government and the Legislative Council. In terms of the Discussion Drafts of Amendments to the Bill, we have the following two points for the government to consider:
I. In relation to the amendment of Clause 3 - Application to Government, Appendix 1.
We believe that the concerned draft must cover the discrimination acts of both the individual / private enterprises and the government. Therefore, it is imperative that the binding power of the ordinance over the government be stated clearly. In principle, we agree that “Option A” in Clause 3 should be amended to have Clause 3 deleted and substituted by “This Ordinance binds the Government.”
In regards to the language barrier and the inconveniences encountered by the Hong Kong ethnic minorities when they seek public services, we suggest the government allocate extra funding to improve the current translation support it provides to public service organizations. At the moment, only public service departments belonging to the government can provide part time translators whose names are on the list when the need arises. This is not sufficient because there are many public services provided by non-governmental organizations and they may not have the resources to pay for part time translators.
Also, the current part time translation service lacks transparency. This makes it very difficult for both the public service providers and the ethnic minorities who want to use this service. Therefore, we suggest the establishment of an independent organization which can provide free and convenient translation service to both government and non-government public service providers and service users whenever there is such a need.
II. In relation to the amendment of Clause 58 – Language Exemption, Appendix IV.
We believe that ensuring that both government and non-government public service agencies provide both Chinese and English as the official languages for communication and service, whether written or verbal, is a basic requirement.
Furthermore, the Draft must also cater to the needs of those who do not know either of the official Chinese or English languages. It is imperative that they have equal right of access to information and services. We believe that all public organizations must be able to provide translation in the vernacular of the service user when necessary. Important public services include: medical treatment and care services, education and vocational training services, social services, court and tribunal services, legal assistance services, housing services, and immigration and labour related services.
From our past experience as a service provider, we find that ethnic minorities have encountered a lot of difficulties, especially in trying to obtain medical, educational and social services due to the language barrier. This is especially noteworthy.
In terms of medical treatment, because the ethnic minorities do not understand Chinese or English, there are lots of situations where there are the wrong taking of drugs, overdoses, and misunderstandings with the medical treatment people. Therefore, we disagree with the amendments suggested in Clause 58, Option A(1B)(1C) and Option B(5) concerning language exemption for medical treatment. We believe that when necessary, a provider of medical treatment must provide its patient a verbatim translation in the vernacular of that patient of any written or oral communication or medicinal label. Moreover, a translator of a patient’s vernacular must be present when the patient is receiving medical treatment.
In regards to education, we believe that there is only one long-term solution to the generational problem of ethnic minorities being in an economically and socially disadvantaged position. This is by granting them equal opportunities to receive higher education and vocational training. Therefore, we suggest deleting Clause 20(2) and 26(2) from the Discussion Drafts. We want to ensure that the education and vocational training organizations will provide Chinese or English teaching according to the individual needs of the specific group. In the long run, the government has the obligation to provide immigrants and those that do not know Chinese or English with enough language training so that they can understand the official languages.
As for social welfare, many ethnic minorities are afraid to ask for help because of the language barrier. As a result, many hidden crisis and needs (such as family abuse) fail to get proper care and assistance. Therefore, we believe that the government must provide both government and non-government welfare service providers with better translation support.
We hope that as the government conducts discussion over the Amendment Drafts of the four most concerned ordinances (issues?), it will not overlook Clause 58 or any other clauses that have to do with language exemption. The government should give careful thought to the effects of the language barrier on the lives of ethnic minorities and its long-term implications.