The head of an NGO on Wednesday spoke out against harsh sentences for young offenders, a day after an 18-year-old defendant was jailed for 11 years in a drugs case.
Sky Siu, executive director of KELY Support Group, told RTHK's Hong Kong Today programme that there was "tonnes of evidence" that jailing people under the age of 21 would harm their prospects and increase the likelihood of reoffending.
She said the case of Cheung Chi-hin, who pleaded guilty to drug trafficking after being found with ketamine worth HK$1.7 million in a flat in Mui Wo when he was 15, in fact highlights the issue of poverty and the burdens young people are being placed under.
"Young people, because of the society issues we're facing at the moment, are struggling, because they feel an extreme burden to take care of their families and are therefore desperate enough to take on a suggestion like this," Siu told RTHK's Samantha Butler.
"So I think that it's more than just a drug issue. I think we need to step back as a whole community to think about how we're helping young people and how we're being more targeted in how we support youth as well."
In Cheung's case, the High Court heard that the teenager was driven by an urgent need to make money because his mother had lost her job during the pandemic and his father was unable to work due to injury.
Handing down the sentence, Judge Judianna Barnes acknowledged that Cheung was a minor at the time, and said this made him susceptible to being influenced into engaging in criminal activity. She reduced his sentence from a starting point of 16.5 years to 11 years, noting that he was not the mastermind.
Siu said that authorities should focus on finding and punishing adults who lure children into drugs offences, adding: "More work should be done to actually get those people, because they're the source and the root of the problem."