Parents are putting their children's lives at risk by smuggling them into the territory in the belief they will be allowed to stay after the handover, immigration officials say. Many children are brought in illegally by speedboat and some are feared to have drowned, they say. Snakeheads operating along Huizhou and Shantou coasts were collecting money from parents in the territory, the principal immigration officer for investigations, Leung Ping-kwan, said yesterday. Amounts ranged from a few hundred dollars to $10,000 for each child. There had been a dramatic increase in the number of child illegal immigrants being surrendered by their parents at immigration offices. This month, 442 minors had been brought to the department's offices as illegal immigrant, compared with only 89 such cases in November. An estimated 40,000 children on the mainland have parents in Hong Kong. Under the Basic Law, they will be allowed to enter the territory by the end of next year. Mr Leung said most of the children were aged between six and 14 and stowed in concealed compartments aboard boats: 'The vessels may just sink, especially when overloaded or being chased.' He said parents wrongly believed there would be a special pardon in such cases after the handover.