A 40-year fight to shine a light on the neglected

By Inès Freyre

The horrific child abuse case of a 5-year-old girl in 2018 shocked Hong Kong to its core. After suffering months of ill-treatment, the girl died, despite relatives and teachers witnessing her deteriorating health. For decades, Hong Kong’s low crime rates have nurtured a cultural norm of safety, leading to a general belief that child abuse could not possibly exist, which made this gruesome case appear as somewhat of a novelty to the average Hong Konger. However, to Priscilla Lui, this was just one more incident that consolidated the importance of a cause that she has been advocating for over 40 years: child protection.

Priscilla Lui Tsang Sun Kai (雷張慎佳) started working as an administrator in 1979 and later became a Director for Against Child Abuse, a Hong Kong-based NGO concerned with abuse prevention. She was one of the founders and Chairperson of The Hong Kong Committee on Children’s Rights, another NGO that was established in 1992. In addition to working with the government, Priscilla’s committee also reports to the United Nations on the progress of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)’s implementation since its ratification was extended to Hong Kong in 1994. 

Over the past three decades, Priscilla has devoted her life’s work to lobbying for legislative change, specifically regarding mandatory reporting of abuse, corporal punishment, and child participation. By spreading awareness through the use of multimedia, she has been successful in leveraging policymakers to involve her in the legislative process. Priscilla meets with Bureaus and government representatives, presenting concrete data and cases of concern to request for improvements in specific areas. One of her notable achievements was the creation of the Commission on Children, a designated governmental entity for child protection established in 2018 which followed years of advocacy efforts calling for such a platform, to which Priscilla also serves as an unofficial member. Her work has also been successful in raising the age of criminal responsibility from 7 to 10 years of age, as well as setting a baseline against corporal punishment. Article 12 of the UNCRC stipulates children’s right to express their views and be involved in matters concerning their welfare, which Priscilla has contributed to implementing through the creation of a Children’s Council in 2002.

However, Priscilla has been outspoken regarding the tedious nature of law reform, stating that Hong Kong still lags far behind compared to other jurisdictions. Despite the success of the Commission on Children’s creation, she has been critical of its role as a non-statutory body, which she believes contributes to a lack of transparency and hinders the commission’s progress. Corporal punishment also remains legally permissible for disciplinary means, while Priscilla continues to advocate for a total ban. She has also had to navigate cultural opposition, seeing as some parents view certain reforms as jeopardising their authority in parent-child dynamics.

Despite the many challenges that Priscilla has been faced with, her efforts have been successful in many areas – not only in enforcing child protection in Hong Kong locally, but also in proving that NGOs and advocacy can contribute to concrete and beneficial change globally. Priscilla was awarded the Hong Kong Humanity Award in 2009 by the Hong Kong Red Cross for the instrumental value of her work in improving child protection in Hong Kong, as well as her impact on neighbouring communities in Singapore, Taiwan, mainland China, and Macau.