It has always been recognised that an influx of mainland families would bring social problems if the SAR was not properly geared to assimilate them. Housing and education were expected to be the main areas of difficulty. No one anticipated a trend towards domestic violence.
Given the general pattern of cross-border marriages, it is not surprising that the difficulties of adjustment are proving too much for some Hong Kong husbands. In many of these cases there is age disparity in addition to cultural differences. Older men with families on the mainland are used to pleasing themselves how they spend their time, and they are accustomed to tranquillity at home.
When a tiny apartment which housed a single occupant has to accommodate several members, including boisterous children, and when a bachelor existence is exchanged for the constraints of being a husband and father, the strains can quickly prove overwhelming.
It is much the same for the wives, separated from their own relatives and learning to cope in a strange neighbourhood. Couples may have imagined that being reunited would end all their problems, instead of which it can often prove to be the start of marital discord. Money worries make matters worse. It is far easier to feed and clothe a family on the mainland than in Hong Kong.
So when organisers of the city's three women's refuges reveal that 64 per cent of occupancy last year was by mainland wives, it is important that the Government takes note of their concern. As more applications are processed, and until the housing list is cut, this is a trend which could grow.
Mainland children face many challenges in their first months here. They often feel isolated and out of place, and they need the security of a safe and happy home to help them settle down. Harmony House staff point out that wife battering is a criminal offence and should be treated as such. But the main priority must be to provide support so that families can work through their difficulties without resorting to violence.