Hong Kong authorities inquiring whether student volunteers covering protest involved child labour

Sum Lok-kei

Hong Kong’s Labour Department is looking into whether the case of a 12-year-old boy detained by police for covering a protest for online media involved child labour.

The department said it had contacted the platform Student Depth Media to check whether any labour laws were breached and wanted a response by next Wednesday.

“To clarify the matter, the department’s labour inspection division sent an email to the media to explain relevant clauses of the Employment of Children Regulations and invite it to provide information,” it said. “The department will take follow-up action depending on the actual situation.”

The regulations prohibit the employment of anyone under 13 and violators face a maximum fine of HK$50,000 (US$6,450).

Detention of student reporter at mall demonstration sparks debate on press accreditation

“A child who works in any place of employment, whether for wages or not, shall be deemed to be employed,” the department said.

The boy was at the demonstration at Harbour City mall in Tsim Sha Tsui on Sunday, where dozens of people had gathered to chant anti-government slogans and sing protest songs. He was seen wearing a fluorescent press vest and live streaming the event with a cellphone. Officers took him away after accusing him of taking part in “illegal child labour” but he was later released without being charged.

According to the Facebook page of Student Depth Media, the platform was formed by “eight young students from different secondary schools” in February and has close to 40,000 followers.

Civic Party district councillor Andy Yu Tak-po, who provided assistance to the boy, said the child labour allegations were unreasonable, given the student was a volunteer.

“You wouldn’t say children raising funds for charities were doing child labour right?” Yu said.

Student Depth Media said on Sunday its reporters were all volunteers from secondary schools and universities. Labour laws therefore did not apply, it claimed.

Yu also accused the government of clamping down on student-led media outfits, which have been active in covering the protests sparked by a failed extradition bill last year.

Barrister Albert Luk Wai-hung said the child labour charge only applied when there was a proven employment relationship. “Was there wages involved? Was there a supervisor telling him how to work?” Luk said.

Authorities might also look into whether adults were involved in running the platform and if there were uniforms or staff cards that could suggest formal employment, he said.

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