'I won't have my missing boy declared dead'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 August, 2007, 12:00am

Seven years on, mother of Yu Man-hon refuses to give up

Sitting in her flat surrounded by mementoes of her missing autistic son, Yu Lai Wai-ling is sure of one thing: she will not seek to have Yu Man-hon declared dead.

She expresses her determination even though Man-hon will have been missing for seven years tomorrow - after which time a person can be declared legally dead - and despite a heartbreaking report that he was beaten to death by mainland officers after being rounded up with other mentally handicapped people.

'I will never give up looking for my son. No parent would want to declare their child dead. I will continue to try to locate him,' the 54-year-old said.

'Also, I am worried that if my son is declared dead, the Hong Kong government and the mainland authorities will not help me look for him any more. I will not do that no matter how long my son has been missing.'

Man-hon, with a mental age of two, was 15 on August 24, 2000, when he ran away from his mother and leapt on a train in Yau Ma Tei MTR station. He somehow crossed the border and was turned away by Hong Kong immigration officials at Lo Wu when Shenzhen officials tried to return him.

The marathon search for him has devastated the family, especially Mrs Yu, who suffers from depression.

In seven years they have become almost inured to following up false leads, but the fax of a mainland news report that arrived in June left her contemplating suicide.

'The story claims that my son was arrested by mainland officers during an operation in which all people with disabilities and mental illness were targeted. These people along with Man-hon were locked up in a shelter and my son was beaten to death during his stay there.'

The message was so distressing she has not shown it to her husband, Yu Pui-lam, for fear he might have an emotional breakdown.

'He sometimes cries non-stop after drinking and keeps saying: 'Man-hon, where are you? I miss you very much'. He stares at Man-hon's picture every day after work.'

Still tormented by guilt, she said: 'When I am not occupied with anything, scenes come to my mind showing him crying in a dark corner, being beaten up, crawling on the street naked feeling cold and hungry.'

Mrs Yu said the family had spent HK$1million to HK$2 million in the search, including travel and newspaper advertisements.

'My brother stopped working for four years to look for Man-hon and we have visited more than nine provinces around Guangdong.'

The family received an undisclosed payment, thought to be about HK$2 million, from the government in an out of court settlement in 2003.

A legal expert said there would be little benefit for them in having Man-hon declared dead now.

'If the family wanted to use the declaration to sue the government for neglect leading to the death of their son, the compensation would not be much,' said the expert, who did not want to be named.

'Man-hon is autistic which means his earning power is limited and thus the family does not suffer a great loss in money terms.'

Mrs Yu has written to Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen seeking a meeting but Mr Tsang's office referred her to the Security Bureau, saying he was too busy to meet her.

A spokesman said the government was concerned about the case and had been maintaining close contact with mainland authorities, who were continuing to co-operate.

Mrs Yu said she appreciated what the government had done, 'but they only promise me they will do this and that, and yet it seems that no follow up action has ever been taken'.

She keeps herself busy with faxes, phone calls, and surfing the internet in the hope of finding more information about Man-hon.

'I wake up 7am every morning and only go to bed at around 1 or 2am. Man-hon comes to my mind every second when I am wake.'

Pictures of Man-hon are everywhere in their flat, and a note written by his father, 'Papa misses you very much!' dated June 17, 2001 - the first Father's Day without Man-hon - is posted on a mirror.

Recalling the day the boy disappeared, Mrs Yu said: 'Man-hon just ran to an escalator. I called his name and he looked back at me and waved with a big smile.

'It was like he wanted to play hide and seek. But the hide and seek game has lasted for too long.'