Monday, 13 August 2012

Abandoned in Hong Kong

We are saddened to discover that a growing number of mainland parents are abandoning their mentally handicapped and chronically ill children in Hong Kong, partly because they don't have the financial resources to care for them or they think the city's healthcare system will somehow help them.

One of the more recent cases is a three-year-old boy who was left here by his parents because he was born with an agonizing and deadly skin disease.

Shun Shun has lived at Prince of Wales Hospital ever since he was born.

The hospital is going to try using pioneering stem-cell treatment to give him some relief from the painful blisters that cover his whole body because the outer and inner layers of his skin are unable to bond.

It was only recently that the treatment gained approval from the hospital's ethics committee, and also it took some time to get approval from his mother. She recently gained residency in Hong Kong and is now in the process of making Shun Shun a ward of the city.

In the two years to last December, police have found at least six abandoned children, including an eight-month old boy with a heart problem in Sheung Shui and a mentally-disturbed boy between five and seven years old on a street in Lau Fau Shan.

Charity St James' Settlement says more mainlanders are seeking its advice on how to care for the children they gave birth to in Hong Kong and who are mentally disabled or have chronic health problems.

"We usually persuade them not to give up on their child," said Wendy Wong, senior manager of St James' family and consulting service. "Some parents explained their difficulties in keeping their child -- the costs and the efforts needed to get special care in the mainland are too high."

What is frustrating for local charities and the police is that the mainland mothers travel to Hong Kong to abandon their children -- mostly on streets or in public hospitals -- and there is no way to contact the parent. Some avoided contact, perhaps worried about the possible consequences, or simply could not be found.

"They either fear what other people would think of them, or they do not want to start the paperwork process at all," Wong said.

She advises the parents should not simply leave their children here, but formally give up guardianship of their child to the Social Welfare Department, which will then arrange for adoptions. Wong hinted that it was easier for a child to be adopted before the age of three and so if parents decide they cannot care for their child, they must make the necessary arrangements as soon as possible.

How do you advise parents of their options if many of them don't seek social help?

It's bad enough that a child is abandoned by their parents and even worse when they have health or mental issues through no fault of their own.

Currently the Social Welfare Department is caring for 742 abandoned children under the age of 18.

That's 742 too many.

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