The brief, dismissive mention of children born in Hong Kong to mainland parents in the population policy consultation paper has provoked anger in mothers and fathers who say they need policies to help their youngsters integrate into the community.
"I'm really disappointed. The government is not treating our children fairly if they fail to formulate any policy to remove the barriers to them learning and living in Hong Kong," said Chen Chunling, a mainland mother whose two-year-old son will return to Hong Kong to go to kindergarten next year.
Chen, who is a manager for an American company in Shenzhen, said children born in the city to mainland parents should be viewed as part of the population. There are 200,000 so far and they have the right of abode.
However, kicking off the consultation on population policy on Thursday, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said that these children were not a "solution" to the problem of Hong Kong's ageing population and ruled out the possibility of attracting the parents to Hong Kong as a way to replenish the shrinking workforce.
The consultation, which asks questions instead of setting out proposals, was quickly dismissed as "a failure" by Professor Nelson Chow Wing-sun of Hong Kong University, who is leading a study on pension schemes.
The only section about the children in the paper focuses on how the government could minimise the impact of their "transient demand" on local pupils.
Chen suggested the Hong Kong government build schools on the mainland to save children from long hours commuting across the border to school. "There is a primary school built by Hongkongers in [the mainland border town of] Lo Wu … but children who graduate from there are hardly ever admitted by schools in Hong Kong."
She said her son, who can only speak Putonghua and read simplified Chinese characters, would face difficulties adapting to the classes. If the government permitted it, however, she would consider giving up her job to start a new career in Hong Kong with her son.
"Please don't label our children. They are not troublemakers. The long queues outside the kindergartens wouldn't exist if the government had planned ahead," she added.
A mainland father of a two-year-old child, surnamed Law, voiced his anger on RTHK radio yesterday. "The government has no policy plan for them because they don't recognise their Hong Kong identity. It wouldn't be that difficult to track the children and devise a policy," he said.
On ways to tap into the potential workforce represented by 525,000 housewives and 240,200 retirees, a woman who identified herself as Ling, urged the government to provide subsidised childcare and introduce standard working hours.
With two children, aged three and eight, Ling said she had given up her job as a security guard due to the long hours - 12 hours a day. "Little time was left for my children as the commuting time took another four hours. General childcare is too expensive and the hours covered are too short."
Mak Hon-kai, 74, said the government could easily encourage retirees to return to work by taking the lead and changing the retirement age of civil servants from 60 to 65. As chairman of the Association of Senior Citizens, he still raises funds and does administrative work.