Toddlers fight for lives after fire

THE Government last night ruled out legislation to protect children left alone by working parents, despite the fire-related deaths of two unattended toddlers and another blaze which left two children fighting for their life.

But Legislative Councillors and the Government made renewed calls to parents not to leave children alone and to use available child care facilities and services.

The onus is being put on parents to act responsibly in the wake of several incidents in the past few years, where unattended children have died or been maimed.

''Parents must not think that because they have not encountered accidents that the matter does not concern them. They should realise that a little neglect on their part can cost lives,'' said councillor Mr Eric Li Ka-cheung.

Six-year-old Shek Fu-hing and his 11/2-year-old brother, Shek Fu-sing, were last night critically ill after inhaling fumes in a fire that broke out in their Tseung Kwan O home.

Earlier yesterday, a similar incident in Tai Po took place where two toddlers, left unattended by the parents, were burned to death.

The Shek children had been playing in their room when the bed sheet caught fire. Their mother, Ms Yeung Bik-har, was sound asleep in her room. Ms Yeung had earlier locked the front door of their King Ming Court flat so that the boys would not run out.

The boys and their mother were admitted to the United Christian Hospital in Kwun Tong. While Ms Yeung was treated for shock, the boys last night remained in critical condition.

According to the boys' aunt, one of them did not have a heart beat when they were rescued by firemen from the burning flat.

Their father, a construction foreman, was so distraught he could only shake his head, stressing he did not know what had happened.

After the fire broke out about 8.45 am, it is believed the boys tried to put out the flames but to no avail. Ms Yeung woke up and tried to evacuate the premises with her sons, but she panicked and could not find the keys.

Neighbours then called the police.

In the earlier incident in Tai Po, 41/2-year-old Law Kui-wing and his three-year-old sister, Fung-wah, were burned to death.

The two children had been locked in their flat with their 14-year-old brother when their parents left for work.

The older brother was too frightened by the fire to find the keys.

According to social workers, Mrs Law was in deep shock and needed counselling.

In both incidents, the children had previous records of starting fires.

Meanwhile, the Social Welfare Department urged parents to make use of occasional child care centres and not leave children unattended at home.

The department's assistant director, Mr Alfred Chui Wing-man, stressed ''parents must be responsible and should use the facilities provided''.

There is no legislation against parents who leave their children unattended. Mr Chui reasoned legislation was inappropriate. ''This will be unfair and discriminative to single parents and the low income families.'' Legco member Mr Eric Li said legislation should come in two to three years when more child care facilities and services have been expanded.

Mr Li urged parents not to place children's lives at risk for convenience sake.

He also said child care centres had to be at acceptable standards. He said many parents were still unaware of facilities available to them.

There are 76 occasional child care centres in Hongkong, which allow parents to leave their children for certain periods when they can not look after them. In addition, the centres have 33,000 spaces for long-term care.

Mr Chui also said the Government had pledged to provide long-term support for the occasional child care services from April this year.