A tiresome shuffle back and forth across the border is disrupting the lives and education of an estimated 7,000 Hong Kong children, activists and families said yesterday, calling for government action.
The children were born to mainland mothers who have lost their Hong Kong husbands to death or divorce. They live in the city on temporary permits, which must be renewed every three months - requiring the mothers, sole-caregivers, to return to their hometowns with their children.
"[The constant insecurity and disruption of life] torments the children. Many grow up with serious emotional problems," said Sze Lai-shan, an organiser with the Society for Community Organisation (SoCO). Sze and around 30 such children presented a petition to the chief executive yesterday, asking that the mothers be granted permanent, one-way permits to live in Hong Kong. Sze said immigration authorities had reviewed 10 to 20 cases in the past few years, and granted one-way permits to some mainland parents on a case-by-case basis.
But the backlog of cases could take years to clear. SoCO estimates there to be 7,000 "nomadic" Hong Kong-born children; no official figures are kept in Hong Kong or the mainland.
Sze said yesterday that the number would grow by 100-200 cases a year unless the government takes action.
One such case is Lui Wai-ling, aged seven, who is mildly mentally retarded, has language disabilities and needs extra help in school. On her last trip to the mainland, Wai-ling's mother, Xu Junlian, had to wait 46 days before she received her latest two-way permit. Xu fears her daughter may suffer permanent damage from this insecure life.
"I feel like I'm pulling [my daughter] down, that I'm destroying her life and jeopardising her future," said Xu. She received a pleasant surprise on Friday - her new visa covers a whole year, allowing multiple re-entries.
But there was hardship before her latest visa boost. When Xu and her Hong Kong husband divorced in 2007, Xu took their daughter to Fujian province, where she got a job. But when Wai-ling turned five, Xu knew they should return to Hong Kong because of her daughter's education needs.
Since then it has been a tense waiting game played out every three months, as Xu takes Wai-ling across the border and waits for the mainland government to issue a new two-way permit. The wait normally takes two weeks, but this time it took six.
"All I need is to be able to stay in Hong Kong so that my child can settle down and study," Xu said. "I want to find a job and provide for the two of us."
Sze said governments on both sides have ignored their plight. "There is no mechanism in Hong Kong, nor in China, to help these children," she said. "I know a family who have been waiting for over 10 years. The worst situation is this - to be shuffling back and forth every three months."
SoCO is dealing with 100 cases, and Sze says there are many more who suffer but who slip under the radar.