HONG KONG: Christian leaders not happy with drug test proposal

August 10, 2009

Hong Kong Christian leaders are warning against proposed government drug tests for schoolchildren because of fears they could stigmatize the students involved.

Roman Catholic Bishop John Tong Hon said in a July 31 television interview he could not support a voluntary pilot drug test scheme in Hong Kong's northern district of Tai Po, where drug abuse is a serious problem.

"I do not support drug tests ... Students are smart. Those taking drugs may do so during holidays, or will make some other ways to disturb test results ... Testing is an ill-advised plan. We should show our love and care to the youth," Hon said.

At a time of growing concern about drug use among young people in Hong Kong, the bishop emphasized that society should deal with the problem's root causes, by helping students cultivate healthy characters based on strong morality. These, he said, are also the aims of Christian education.

The bishop's remarks stirred criticism from those who argued that the drug testing scheme would be delayed without the support of the Catholic Church, which runs more than 275 schools in the Hong Kong territory and is one of the biggest education providers in the city.

The Catholic diocese clarified on August 9 that the church fully supports anti-drug programs at schools and will not instruct Catholic schools to boycott the drug test scheme.

The Rev. Michael Yeung, vicar general of the Catholic diocese, told the media that security authorities should take charge of the drug testing. "Asking schools to be responsible for drug tests may put teachers and students into conflict situations," said Yeung, who pleaded with the Hong Kong government to postpone the plan for a year.

Christian organizations that run schools sided with the bishop. Timothy Ha Wing-ho, education adviser to Hong Kong's Anglican Archbishop Paul Kwong, said that the government should ensure adequate backup measures for the scheme, rather than rushing to meet a deadline.

The government has defended the scheme, saying it will only implement it with the consent of individual schools and parents. It said students involved in testing would be picked at random. Since it gained independence from Britain in 1997, Hong Kong has been a Special Administrative Region of China.

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