No summer break for 'child scavengers'

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 August, 2006, 12:00am

'Summer holiday? What summer holiday?' That was the reply of 12-year-old Karen Fung when asked how she had spent her two-month school break.

It might not sound like a typical answer for a Form One schoolgirl. But Karen, of Shamshuipo, has been spending her summer holiday collecting old newspapers, cardboard, and aluminium cans for resale to help her family make ends meet.

'I do it with my brother. And we have so far made about $200. We save the money to buy stationery for the new school year,' said Karen, who works for about four to six hours on weekends.

The mainland-born girl came to settle in Hong Kong with her father four years ago. Her mother is still in Guangdong, waiting to have her application approved to reunite with the family here. Her father earns a living by repairing old electric appliances.

Karen is among dozens of 'child scavengers' identified in a study who could not afford to have any recreational activity during summer holiday.

Released yesterday, the Society for Community Organisation study showed some 70 per cent of teenagers from needy families had been forced to work or idle away their holidays at home because they could not afford to pay for the activities.

The study polled 216 of the children receiving services at the society's Shamshuipo centre. About half of them are from families living on public welfare assistance.

Some 68.5 per cent said even the government-run youth activities were too expensive. A typical swimming class for beginners offered by the government can cost $54.

A community organiser at the society, Wong Chi-yuen, said: 'The sum may sound very small to some people. But to those living under the poverty line, it is already an astronomical sum.' He accused the government of turning a blind eye to the children's plight.