The right to learn

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 December, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 December, 2001, 12:00am

The row over right of abode of children born to permanent residents has exacted a heavy toll on the community.

The very foundation of Hong Kong's judicial system was called into question when a ruling by the Court of Final Appeal favouring them in 1999 was overturned by a reinterpretation of the relevant Basic Law provisions by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.

Since then, protests by aggrieved abode claimants have led to violent confrontations with police and immigration officers. In one incident last year, some claimants started a fire that killed one of them and a senior immigration officer.

Now it is revealed that about 100 minors who are trying to assert their right to stay have been deprived of their right to education. Some were overstayers who arrived on two-way permits, while others sneaked in illegally. All have applied to stay and their fate hinges on the outcome of a long-drawn-out court battle, the end of which is not yet in sight.

The Security Bureau sees them as overstayers and illegal immigrants who will soon face deportation. It is adamant that they be barred from going to school, lest it send the wrong message that the Government has softened its stance.

But a child's right to education is paramount. As the wheels of justice grind slowly, these children have been granted a temporary stay and some have been here for as long as five years. While they await a decision on their applications, there is no reason why they should not be allowed to lead a normal life, which for children means going to school.

Prolonged absence from school has already inflicted harm on the children's intellectual and emotional development. That is clearly not something that Hong Kong, as a signatory of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, should have allowed to happen.

Out of political expediency, the plain meaning of the Basic Law provisions on right of abode has been given an unnecessary twist. This has created a host of problems and inflicted damage on both the claimants and hapless officials in charge of implementing the policy concerned.

The authorities must act positively to correct this wrong and restore the right to education of this group of unfortunate children.