Friday, 22 May 2015

Stateless Kids in the City

For nine years, Siu Yau-wai (right) has lived in Hong Kong illegally
Last month, a 15-year-old girl jumped to her death from her parents' flat in Repulse Bay. It was later discovered the daughter of a senior British executive and his Filipina partner, did not have a birth certificate. And as a result, she and her younger sister didn't have Hong Kong Identity Cards and weren't able to go to school.

This brought into question how many other children there are in the city like this and another case turned up this week.

In 2006, a grandmother brought her three-year-old grandson across the border from Shenzhen after his parents abandoned him. They decided he was a "bad omen" after his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and the father lost an arm in an industrial accident.

They apparently left Siu Yau-wai in a "paper box" on the mainland shortly after he was born, and their whereabouts is unknown.

The 15-year-old girl's parents who didn't register her or sister
How the grandmother, Chow Siu-Shuen, found her grandson three years later has not been clarified, but nevertheless she took the boy back to Hong Kong using another child's ID card and two-way permit.

The boy, Yau-wai, now 12, has spent his childhood in a small public flat in Kwun Tong with his 67-year-old grandmother and grandfather, 80.

They lived in constant fear because he didn't have any papers, so they were terrified of letting anyone in their flat. If someone from the Housing Authority or census staff came, the boy would escape down the back stairwell to the park below, Chow said.

While she home schooled him, Yau-wai liked to read and would only go to the library at night "to avoid crowds", and could not borrow books because of his lack of status, nor could he see the doctor when he was ill. His grandmother would resort to home remedies or take him to see a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, as ID cards are not necessary.

The boy said he had friends, but none knew he didn't go to school, and neither did their neighbours.

But after reading about the tragic circumstances around the 15-year-old girl's suicide, Chow decided it was in the best interests of Yau-wai to turn herself in and hand him over to the authorities.

Chow was arrested on suspicion of aiding and abetting others in breach of condition of stay, and was granted bail, while the boy was given an identification document allowing him to stay for four weeks, subject to renewal.

"We must now face the reality. We know there may be legal consequences," said the retired grandmother. "If I die one day and he does not have documentation... he will have no way to live."

Yau-wai was assessed and found to have primary three education level, about four years younger than him.

For now Chow and her grandson are free to walk the streets without fear, but what's next? Should he be allowed to stay in Hong Kong?

If he is granted permanent residency, there are fears that many other children who are in similar cases to Yau-wai or the teenager in Repulse Bay will start coming forward. How many really are there in the city?

It also seems not enough is done to enforce the Births and Deaths Registration Ordinance, that while staff may try to follow up on cases that haven't registered, they are not persistent enough and feel the onus is on the parents, who have a year to do the right thing.

However, the media has found there were 543 children from July 1997 to March this year who were registered after the children turned one, with 71 cases since 1997 that were not registered.

If you register a child 42 days after birth, the birth certificate is free, otherwise you have to pay HK$140. After one year it jumps to HK$680.

The story of Yau-wai seems strange, as how would his grandmother know where to find him three years later if he was abandoned in a cardboard box? A quick DNA test would verify their relationship.

But in the meantime, is Hong Kong going to see a flood of children coming out of the woodwork to claim residency?

Should be interesting and we'll only know once Yau-wai's situation is cleared up.

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