Don't split mother from her child

WHILE the press chases the headline-grabbers for sensational political news, an unnoticed tragedy is silently being enacted by our immigration regulations that before long will erupt into a serious social problem.

The case of Hai Ho-tak is only one of the tragedies taking place.

This 61/2-year-old boy is being repatriated to China, separated from both parents and siblings, because they cannot prove that he was born in Hong Kong.

What crime has the boy committed to be so condemned? I have never taken to the streets to raise my fist on this callousness on the part of a Government that claims to have a Bill of Rights, but I have repeatedly pleaded with the authorities to deal with the policy in a more humane way.

As my only answer for years has been ''That is the policy'', and it has been admitted that the policy works against the rights of the child, I think my only recourse is to write to the press to air the matter.

Human rights should not be just a theory, though preaching about it may prove to be a vote-winner.

Human rights are not just a political football, but a matter concerning individuals, one by one or family by family.

While the policy is quoted as the reason for separating young children, even infants, from their parents, it is actually the policy that is creating the problem in the first place.

Let me explain why.

A man born in Hong Kong has the right to bring his children but not his wife to Hong Kong if his wife lives in China, though he may bring her if she is Thai, Filipino, British or any other nationality except Chinese. Likewise a man, even though he himself was originally an immigrant from China, has the right to keep in Hong Kong any children born during the period of his wife's stay as a visitor in Hong Kong, though his wife is repatriated immediately after the birth of the child and as soon as she is fit to travel.

Both these policies are creating broken marriages, mental anxiety, and social problems for children.

In the case of the Hong Kong-born man, what is the use of allowing the children to come here if the mother is left in China and is unable to look after the children? The man has two choices: he may go to work to support his family leaving the children to their own devices, unless he is fortunate enough to have relatives to assist in their care; alternatively he may give up his job to look after the children and the whole family will live a deprived life on public assistance, a portion of which no doubt he will squeeze from his food bills to send to his wife in China.

In any of these two events, the children are at risk, some will become social misfits, and the taxpayer will foot the bill.

In the case where a man is not born in Hong Kong but the couple arrange for the wife to visit Hong Kong just before childbirth (a very common occurrence), the child will have the right to remain in Hong Kong, but the mother will be repatriated to China.

Some couples have several children born in this way in Hong Kong, and almost invariably the children remain in Hong Kong with the father and the infants have no bonding with the mother.

The same social consequences result: the children are uncared for, or the father gives up his job and the whole family depends upon the taxpayer to live a life of deprivation on mere subsistence allowances.

My proposals are not unreasonable and the administration has agreed that is the case, but so far no change has been made in the policy. I propose that the Hong Kong-born man should have the same rights as other Hong Kong-born persons, to bring his wife from China at the same time as the children to keep the family together and allow him to support them by working while giving the wife the opportunity of taking care of the children.

In the case of the father who is himself an immigrant, I think that when the child is born in Hong Kong the mother should take the child with her when she is repatriated, for the sake of the child.

She can then wait for her turn in the quota to join her husband.

Excuses have been made that some people would cheat the system by arranging marriages of convenience in order to bring women from China. This can be remedied by making the stay conditional for a period of time, say three to five years, to prove that the marriage is genuine.

Who says we have human rights in Hong Kong when families can be split up because of a policy intended to be a deterrent? So far it appears that the Bill of Rights has benefited only those who are wealthy, or knowledgeable enough to find the loopholes, and criminals have often escaped justice while innocent people do not even know that they have rights. And even where they have rights, the policy is used to negate those rights.

ELSIE TU Kowloon