One in five Nepalese youths in Hong Kong are returned to Nepal against their will

Hong Kong Unison hosts a press briefing on the challenges facing Nepalese youths in the city on June 6, 2024. Photo: Hans Tse/HKFP. Used with permission.

This report was written by Hans Tse and originally published in Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) on May 20, 2024. An edited version is published below as part of a content partnership agreement with HKFP.

Approximately one in five Nepalese youths in Hong Kong have been sent to Nepal by their parents, with most being made to go against their will, an NGO has said as it highlighted an alarming student dropout rate among the ethnic minority community.

Hong Kong Unison, an NGO that focuses on the equal rights and integration of ethnic minorities in the city, conducted a study of 268 Nepalese youths between last April and May and found that about 50 had been forced by their parents to leave and spend time in Nepal, Executive Director John Tse said on Thursday. The average age of those surveyed was 22.

“The size of the problem is disturbing, we are talking about one in five, which is not a small portion of people,” Tse told HKFP.

Tse said 40 percent of respondents cited family problems and financial difficulties as the reasons behind being sent to Nepal, as their parents could not afford to pay for their child’s education in Hong Kong.

But for young Nepalese women in the city, some were sent away because their parents disapproved of their dating life, Tse said. In extreme cases — about 15 percent — young Nepalese women were forced to enter marriages in Nepal, he added.

Tse referred to a case whose parents sent her to Nepal after she began dating at 18. That woman, Tse said, was only able to return to the city after years of negotiation with her parents and was a 24-year-old second-year university student when he met her.

“She felt really bitter of her being sent back. She lost a few years of her education,” Tse said.

Limbu Eliza, a 26-year-old Hong Kong-born Nepalese woman, said some Nepalese parents with “traditional mindsets” had reservations when their daughters started romantic relationships during their studies.

Young couples could easily spark gossip if they were seen together, as the Nepalese population lived close together, she said. That could add to Nepalese parents’ dismay and lead to them sending their daughters away, she added.

For young Nepalese men, Tse highlighted drug use as a major reason behind their being sent to Nepal. Of those surveyed, 12.6 percent had admitted to drug use, he said, and 70 percent considered drug abuse a serious issue among Nepalese in the city.

The average age of first-time drug use was 17, with the youngest person reportedly just 12, he added.

Tse said the dropout rate for Nepalese students in Hong Kong was 7.1 percent, compared with 0.4 percent for the overall student population in the city, describing the disparity as “alarming.”

But he also said that, while most were unhappy about being sent to Nepal, some youths were understanding of their parents’ hardships and were positive about life there.

He suggested the government provide short-term financial aid to Nepalese families in difficulty, which could avoid their children being sent away due to educational expenses.

But long-term value change would be required for Nepalese parents not to resort to sending their children to Nepal because of disapproval of their children’s life choices, he said, adding that “was not the value of Hong Kong society.”

He said Nepalese youths should learn to empower themselves with the courage to say “no,” and that awareness campaigns were needed.

There were about 29,700 Nepalese living in Hong Kong as of 2021, making them the fourth largest ethnic minority community behind Filipinos, Indonesians, and Indians.

Among the Nepalese community, about 31.6 percent were below 24 years old, according to census data.

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