THE HUSBAND Lam Kar-oi is a 47-year-old manual worker from a small farming village in Guangdong. He came to Hong Kong in 1980 but returned home to marry Lam Choi Siu-fa in 1982 when she was 19 and he was 33. They have four children, an eight-year-old daughter and six-year-old son born in China and two sons, aged four and one, born in Hong Kong after Lam Choi Siu-fa was smuggled into the territory by boat. A fifth child, Lam King-hung, died following a trip from China to Hong Kong in 1992. Lam lives in a 4.6-square metre Tseung Kwan O temporary housing hut with his two youngest children. His wife lives with the older children and her in-laws in China. She is currently in Hong Kong illegally and was arrested last month after her husband sought help from the Hong Kong and China Non-Permit Association but was released on bail a few days later. The family has never lived together for more than a few months. 'I SWAM to Hong Kong. I never had any intention of doing it but some friends suggested that we swim from She Hou to Hong Kong to see what it was like. I swam for my life. When I arrived five hours later I had nothing, no money, and I knew no one but in those days it was much easier - if you could make it to the Department of Immigration without getting caught they gave you an ID card. It was the early 1980s and I was quite happy for a few years, working in a hotel and living in Pokfulam. I built a hut from planks of wood. It didn't have any electricity but it was comfortable. On a visit back to my village, it was suggested that I get married, so I married the sister of my best friend. She stayed with my parents in the village and for a while it was fine living apart and seeing each other occasionally. But then we had kids and I noticed how other men had wives to look after them when they fell ill and someone to talk to when they went home and realised it wasn't a good situation. My wife and two older children eventually came over with the help of a snakehead. We didn't plan to have any kids in Hong Kong but Ah Fung was conceived and everything happened so quickly, including the birth ... we didn't have time to get to the hospital so I had to deliver him in the hut. Her waters broke and 10 minutes later he was born. I was really scared as I had never delivered a baby before. I knew everything had to be clean so I smashed a china pot and cut the umbilical cord with that. Then I ran to the 7-Eleven and bought some dressing. My hands were shaking. To prove that Ah Sam was born in Hong Kong, we took photos and kept the afterbirth in alcohol in a jar so that we could register his birth. The other two kids were born in hospital, including Ah Hung who died shortly after my wife was sent back to China. She was breastfeeding so he had to go with her but China did not suit him. He was very sickly there and my mother told her to bring him back here. Anyway I had to prove to the Housing Authority that he existed before they would let me apply for public housing. I went to China to collect him but he developed a fever after the journey and died in Hong Kong a few days later from pneumonia. It was the travelling that killed him. I was too scared to tell my wife and kept it from her for more than six months. She eventually got suspicious and paid another snakehead to bring her here to see Ah Hung. When she found the jar with his ashes in she went mad and tried to attack me with a vegetable knife. She's never really been the same since. Now the younger two need looking after. I can't work because when my wife is not here there is no one to see to the children. I get $4,000 from the Government but I really want to go back to work. That's why I could never go back to China, what would I do for work? It's very easy to get work here - I can do anything - but I can't at the moment because I'm alone. My wife prefers it here, too. After Ah Hung's death she was desperate to look after the children properly and I really don't want her to be sent back again. I'm applying for residency for the other kids, too. If they don't get it they can stay with their grandparents until 1997 when it might be easier, although the way things are at the moment, it's very expensive. I don't know the right people to apply for permits and the whole system is very corrupt.' THE WIFE Lam Choi Siu-fa. 'I HAVE come to Hong Kong illegally about six times now. Each time it costs me around $3,000. The first time I came because I hadn't heard from my husband for months and I had no money; he hadn't been sending any, so I came here to find him. I had the two older children with me and we took a slow boat from She Hou near Shenzhen. It only cost $1,000 but took five hours. It was awful. It was very stuffy and noisy because we were hidden with four other women at the bottom of the boat under a wooden cover. The snakeheads gave us paper fans to help us cool down. We kept stopping to avoid marine police and I threw up everywhere. The kids kept saying: 'Don't worry mummy, we'll be with daddy soon.' I came by speedboat the other times, which takes an hour. We usually leave about midnight and the snakeheads provide a kind of door-to-door service, sometimes there's a taxi waiting at the Hong Kong end. It's no problem finding someone to take you, you just ask around in the village. There's always someone who can set you up with someone else in Shenzhen. The biggest problem is the police. My heart pounds every time I see a uniform. The first time I gave birth in Hong Kong I was afraid I'd be arrested. The immigration people came back to our hut because I'd had Ah Sam at home and they had to inspect the placenta we'd kept in a jar. I was about eight months pregnant when I came looking for Ah Hung. I know it's quite dangerous for the baby but I was desperate to find out what was going on. My husband just kept telling me that my son was staying with friends. When the snakehead dropped me off at the door, a neighbour shouted something like: 'Why has it taken you so long?' My husband just said, 'He's gone.' The neighbours had to hold me back. My husband is having problems taking care of the children. I had to overstay one holiday permit because my one-year-old son was sick. I was arrested and fined $2,500. Ah Sam, the four-year-old who was born at home, needs me as much as the youngest. He's funny. He doesn't speak to anyone, not even the teachers at kindergarten. I wanted at least one of my children to live with my husband. I was afraid that if all our children were born in China and he couldn't get residency for any of them then he would be all alone. He'll need someone to look after him when he's old. THE MOTHER-IN-LAW Chung Kwai-leung, 66ck, is Lam Kai-oi's mother. She looks after the Lams two eldest children in Guangdong. 'I DIDN'T want my son to go to Hong Kong. But one day he left to go to Shenzhen and sell sweet potatoes and never came back. I was really worried because he can't write and didn't let us know where he was for about seven months. I cried day and night. I have no desire to go to Hong Kong. My husband went once and didn't like it - it was too expensive - but I do think that all the children should be with my son so they can be a complete family. They really miss him when he leaves and the schools are so much better there. A lot of people from the village want to go to Hong Kong because they see it as a place of opportunity. They look at those who have gone and they see that they can come back and build large houses. But I think the women are changing their minds about marrying Hong Kong men. At first they didn't mind being separated from their husbands because they had money to spend but now I think if they were given the choice they wouldn't marry a Hong Kong man again. They don't want to live separately. The money is just not worth it: you should be with the man you marry.' THE DOCTOR Dr Li Chi-yin is a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology at the Prince Of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin. 'THE increase in the number of mainland women coming here to have their babies has increased four-fold since 1990. We get about 1,600 a year in this hospital alone and I see no reason why the number will not continue to increase the closer we get to '97. We treat the mainland Chinese women the same as we would a local patient but encounter problems with things such as language because not all of them speak Cantonese. Of course they never arrive with medical notes and have rarely had antenatal care so treating them can take a lot of time. At one time we had police officers on the ward keeping an eye on the illegal immigrants, which is not ideal, particularly for other patients. I think the police have staffing problems because now they just come and pick up the women and take them to the detention centre when they are ready to be discharged. I think the women are quite brave. Many of them are very close to delivery by the time they get here. It is quite common for them to wait until they are actually in labour, until they get the pains, then they walk over the hills until they've crossed the border and call an ambulance at this end. Others have given birth on the train, or their waters break on the boat, but they all say it is worth it. There are many reasons why they come; China's one-child policy, immigration and also because the standard of medical care is better. They have to pay bribes if they want good quality care in China whereas here they only pay $54 a day if they have a Hong Kong husband with an ID card. The answer to the problem really lies with the governments of Hong Kong and China. I know they are negotiating to stop pregnant women from obtaining a two-way permit but they have to resolve the issue of immigration for these people because at the moment we can just about cope, but something needs to be done before the problem gets worse.' THE CAMPAIGNER Yun Shat-man, chairman of the Hong Kong and China Non-Permit Mothers Association. 'WOMEN like Lam Choi Siu-fa are forced to have their babies here. They don't believe in the PRC system. They want their children to have a future so they are prepared to risk coming to Hong Kong illegally. It can cost $80,000 to get a one-way permit in Shenzhen but some of these are false ... many people are cheated. The Hong Kong Government says that if too many immigrants came over from mainland China it would disturb the general resources of the territory. Yet look at the situation more closely: a man with a three-star ID card can earn between $300 and $600 a day but if his wife is arrested and sent back to China, he has to stop work to look after the kids and becomes reliant on social welfare. This is a very large problem. I'd say there are at least a million people involved. I'm committed to fighting for the residential rights of Chinese mothers because they are suffering from policies which go against basic human rights. If I was to marry an English girl, I would be able to live in England, right? So why can't Chinese marry Chinese and live together? All we are looking for is family unity. I think many people are considering taking violent action if something is not done about it soon. It's no good waiting until 1997 when they will all come pouring in at once. Something has to be be done for the future harmony of Hong Kong.' THE SNAKEHEAD 'Mr Wu', 27, Shenzhen. 'I HAVE been in this business for five years now and it just gets easier and easier. I make runs into Hong Kong most nights and am famous for always being successsful. I started off as a speedboat driver but now I have two boats of my own and usually have someone else drive them. One boat is a normal speedboat with a 240-horsepower engine, the other has three engines which add up to over 900 hp - it is so fast it only takes 15 minutes to go from the Chinese side to the Hong Kong side. The Chinese marine police are useless. They can't be bothered to chase me, they know I am too fast. But it is also a very scary ride. Usually I take around eight people and always at least half throw up. The boat is much too fast and rough for pregnant women to take, so I put them in the slower speedboat. That has more chance of being caught so I never drive it myself. The Hong Kong police can be quite dirty. They often ram slower boats on purpose and sometimes the people in them drown. Sometimes, when they are angry at losing a chase, they will pull up along a fishing sampan which they suspect of being a lookout boat and beat up everyone on board. I suppose it is their way of getting rid of the adrenalin from the chase. When I arrive at the Hong Kong side in my fast boat some of the passengers are so stunned from the ride they can't move and I have to slap them a few times or even carry them off. This is actually my biggest problem because the only time I have a real chance of being caught is when we dock and I lose time getting people ashore. A few friends have been caught this way. The passengers get fined a few hundred and returned to China within two days but the snakeheads lose their boats and get sent to jail. On the way back, with my boat lighter, I am even faster. Hong Kong marine police sometimes chase me but they don't have have a chance and within minutes I am safe in Chinese waters. I used to find it very exciting and my heart would be pounding after a good chase. But now, after winning so many times, it's no big deal. Business gets better all the time. Hong Kong bosses are importing more and more illegal labour. Many of my passengers expect to find work on the new airport, or in construction, or sometimes in crime. But to be honest, I couldn't care less about them. My job is just to transport them. They don't ask questions of me and I don't ask questions of them.' Crossing the border JUST how difficult is it to arrange illegal passage to Hong Kong? To find out a Sunday Morning Post journalist posed as the representative of a 'rich and important' Shenzhen woman wanting to get to Hong Kong quickly. She began by asking a taxi driver. Within two hours Shenzhen's complex system of referrals had led her to three snakeheads and four different ways of entering the territory. SLOW FISHING BOATS 'The journey takes about eight hours. It's very safe. You go with my friend to Hai Lu Feng where he will put you into a Hong Kong registered fishing boat. There shouldn't be any problem with police. We will give you a forged fisherman's pass so if they stop the boat - which they rarely do - just show them that. In any case, they are far more interested in checking the goods than the crew. We can smuggle up to seven men in each boat but only one woman. She has to pose as the cook - it is the only plausible job for a woman on a fishing boat. It will cost you $4,000 and we can drop you at a pier in Kowloon, about a minute's walk from the taxi rank. We can have a guide to help you find where you have to go and you won't have to pay up until you arrive.' HONG KONG LORRIES 'It will take you two or three hours to clear customs, then we will drop you in the New Territories or Kowloon. It is a bit dark and airless in the back but it is very quick and quite safe. The Chinese customs rarely open the back and if they do, they will just let you go. They don't want the hassle. The Hong Kong customs always have a quick look but you will be hidden right in a concealed compartment under a lot of licenced cargo - they can never be bothered to completely empty the lorry - so as long as you're quiet, you're safe. We will have a taxi waiting for you when the lorry gets in to take you wherever you need to go. The cost is $5,000 payable when you arrive in Hong Kong.' TAXI 'This is a very special way. It costs $10,000 so it is only for the rich. You will go by road in a Hong Kong taxi. All the paperwork will be arranged by us. You will only have to sit in the back and watch the scenery.' SPEEDBOAT 'The cheapest but also the most dangerous. It costs only $2,500 or $3,500 return. For pregnant women it is very difficult as you have to climb over the mountains near Shekou to meet the boat on the coast. The boat journey itself will only take 15 to 30 minutes and we will drop you on the Hong Kong side of the mountains - so there will be another climb before you get to the road. We take the money before you travel.' There are 64,000 children in China who will be eligible to apply for Hong Kong right of abode status in 1997, according to the Basic Law. And there are at least another 300,000 whose rights are still under discussion (some estimates put the figure closer to one million). These children have fathers with Hong Kong identity cards and mothers living on the mainland. Government officials fear these children may flood into the territory in two years' time; their parents fret they will kept out. It is a socio-economic time-bomb with a two-year fuse. But for many women, the bureaucratic entanglements of the Hong Kong handover are too uncertain to rely on. Instead, they head for the border - often smuggled in on boats, lorries or by foot, just hours before giving birth - to ensure their offspring have a Hong Kong birth certificate, an identity card and a rosier future. More than 10,000 mainland women make it to local hospitals every year and the numbers are increasing. KAY WORBOYS and CINDY SZETO report on the red-tape, corruption and uncertainty faced by one split family in the run-up to 1997.