A government has to know the community it serves if it is to do its job properly. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's administration has a good idea of what is needed for citizens living within Hong Kong's borders, but has its work cut out when it comes to children born in our hospitals to mainland parents. The excessively long lines of people lodging applications to kindergartens in Sheung Shui recently make plain how daunting the problem is. Many were from Shenzhen and at times outnumbered their local counterparts, but they had every right to be applying. Their sons and daughters are also citizens.
That our Basic Law guarantees that right and the associated benefits to every child born in our city, regardless of where their parents come from, is not always on the minds of Hong Kong people also trying to enrol their children. Some believe they should be given priority over families who do not live here. They question why non-residents should have education subsidised by taxpayers. The anger at having to compete with out-of-towners will likely be exacerbated if they are unsuccessful.
These are matters of concern for the government, especially as it does not know for sure how many Hong Kong-born children of mainland parents are likely to come here for education and to use public health services. They have increased our population by at least 170,000 since the highest court in 2001 upheld their right of abode. Their numbers will grow by hundreds a month until next year, when an order by Leung banning mainland women not married to Hong Kong men from giving birth in hospitals takes effect. It will be several years before the impact of the decision is felt.
Hong Kong cannot live with the uncertainty of unknown numbers of children needing education and health care. Leung has to ensure proper calculations and preparations are made. Private kindergartens swamped with demand may not worry, but parents on both sides of the border and public schools want - and need - to know.
But we also have to stop thinking of the Hong Kong-born children of mainland parents as outsiders. They have the same rights as local sons and daughters and have to be treated as such. It is in our every interest that we welcome them. They are a long-term solution to our problem of low birth and fertility rates and an ageing population. In them, just as with our own children, lies our city's future.