It is sad and deplorable that young children should become pawns in the transition process, but that is perhaps inevitable given the policies which have been followed in the allocation of one-way permits to Hong Kong. The queue of youngsters applying to live in the territory after July 1 is estimated at between 30,000 and 60,000. Years will pass before all these applications are processed, so it is not altogether surprising that anxious parents resort to a variety of ways to queue-jump, according to their financial means or influential connections. Hong Kong immigration authorities meeting with their Guangdong counterparts at the weekend have agreed in principle that children who have sneaked into Hong Kong will be sent back. This is unquestionably the correct legal response, though in human terms it will cause disruption to children's lives and unnecessary upset for little ones who find themselves escorted back to the mainland in circumstances which cannot be other than intimidating. On the credit side, it should prove a strong deterrent to snakeheads who are ferrying children across and growing rich on the proceeds. It will also avert a full scale invasion of under-age illegal immigrants, which would almost certainly ensue if children already here were granted an amnesty. But that is only half the story. Parents who are being told to observe the letter of the law need to be reassured that the law will be equally scrupulously observed when it comes to the processing of legitimate applications. Part of the reason for this rush over the border springs from the fact that it is cheaper to pay a snakehead to smuggle youngsters across than to wait interminably in a queue while priority goes to people who can afford to bribe a mainland official to chop on the relevant papers. The most effective way to ensure that children with right of abode enter Hong Kong in an orderly manner is to guarantee that the allocation system is operated with scrupulous fairness and integrity, so that poorer families will not be banished to the back of the queue because they do not have the money to sweeten the right officials. Making the waiting list public would not be a bad idea. Graft and bribery do not thrive in Hong Kong, and it must not become home to a generation of children whose first lesson in life is that money can buy them the means to steal a march over others.