Parental Responsibility Bill faces further delays despite attempts at legal reform

Insert picture: Chris Sun

6th December 2023 – (Hong Kong) Today, the Hon Lam San-keung directed questions to the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Chris Sun, in the Legislative Council, regarding the delays in moving forward with the Children Proceedings (Parental Responsibility) Bill, a piece of legislation aiming to reform parental responsibilities towards their children under law.

The Bill was introduced to address the legal obligations of parents towards their children, with a specific focus on ensuring the child’s best interests are paramount in any related legal proceedings. Despite a public consultation in 2015, the proposed legislation has yet to be introduced, leading to questions about the government’s reasoning behind this.

The government’s earlier communication to the Panel on Welfare Services cited opposition to the Bill during the public consultation, specifically noting the view that the proposed legislation would not aid divorced parents in resolving conflicts. Despite this, some argue that the Bill’s purpose is to clarify parental responsibilities towards children and protect their interests, irrespective of its potential impact on conflict resolution among divorced parents.

Another concern highlighted was the Panel’s motions in 2016 and 2017 requesting the postponement of the Bill until there were ample support measures for affected families. The government claims to have implemented numerous support measures, seemingly addressing the Panel’s concerns yet failing to move forward with the proposed legislation.

In response, the President of the Labour and Welfare Bureau (LWB) stated that the draft Bill, prepared in 2015, was designed to reform and consolidate the law relating to parental responsibilities and rights, including the appointment and powers of guardians. The draft legislation included a statutory list defining parental responsibility and major decisions about a child’s upbringing.

The public consultation in November 2015 resulted in a divided stakeholder opinion, with equal proportions supporting and opposing the legislative proposal. Those in favour argued the legislation would protect children’s best interests, while opposition raised concerns about exacerbating family problems, especially in cases involving domestic violence. Single-parent groups also voiced concerns about potential misuse of the new requirements by malicious parties, causing distress to the child and undermining their interests.

In light of these views and the Welfare Panel’s position, the LWB decided to prioritise promoting the concept of continued parental responsibility post-divorce, strengthening co-parenting counselling, and providing children contact service. The legislative proposal would only be reintroduced once a clearer societal consensus is reached.

The Social Welfare Department (SWD) has implemented a series of support measures, including setting up five Specialised Co-parenting Support Centres in 2019. These centres provide a range of services to assist separated or divorced parents in fulfilling their parental responsibilities and support children affected by parental separation or divorce.