Care needed on child welfare applications

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 March, 2008, 12:00am

A child's rightful place is with its parents. Sadly, circumstances can often make that difficult, if not impossible. There is sometimes a need to provide welfare support to ensure that families can stay together. This upholding of family values rightly enjoys strong support in the community. But it must not be abused.

Social welfare director Stephen Fisher has decided that Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) payments should only be made to Hong Kong-born children of absent mainland parents if there are compelling reasons. As a result, no applications have been granted since the new policy began on February 1, compared with 89 granted out of 178 applications between August 2006 and December last year. This follows reports that the subsidy of HK$1,330 to HK$1,665 was, in some cases, being sent to the mainland parents across the border. In other cases, families looking after such children in Hong Kong were demanding the payment. Mr Fisher argues that it is better for children to live with their parents than with a family that seeks a subsidy, or to be cared for by the department. His view may appear inflexible to some, but he has a point. Whatever reasons parents have for leaving children behind in Hong Kong, this does not absolve them of responsibility for providing support. Having been born in Hong Kong entitles these children to right of abode, and parents may sincerely believe the child will have a better life if left here. Relatively easy access to government support, however, is open to abuse.

Given that parents and children ought to be together, it is not a practice that should be encouraged. There may well be genuine cases of hardship which deserve compassionate treatment, although one would expect they would be few among parents who can afford to come to Hong Kong to give birth. There is an argument that children really in need of welfare should be placed in an orphanage, or that the families who take them in should formally adopt them before expecting assistance. The priority, however, must be the child. The government should examine each application to distinguish between genuine hardship cases and attempts to abuse the system.