Deal with undocumented boy with compassion without compromising the law

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 May, 2015, 3:30am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 May, 2015, 6:14pm

It is hard not to feel sympathy for 12-year-old Siu Yau-wai, a mainland-born boy who has lived illegally in Hong Kong with his grandparents since the age of three. Apparently abandoned by his mother and father, he was brought here by his grandmother under a false name on a two-way permit, overstayed and has lived outside the system. His lack of an identity card has denied him access to education and public health care. Authorities, now aware of his case, have to treat it with compassion.

The grandmother, Chow Siu-shuen, came forward after learning of the suicide last month of a 15-year-old girl, who also was living here undocumented. Immigration officials have been quick to step in, issuing a temporary identity document. Schools have expressed an interest in taking the boy in. But laws have been broken and the grandmother has been arrested and is on bail while the matter is being investigated. The boy's story has to be verified and efforts made to locate his parents.

Importantly, the law has to be upheld. Care has to be taken in making a decision not to send the wrong message to potential law-breakers. Other people illegally in our city are also bound to come forward or be found; if a precedent is to be set, rules and regulations have to be faithfully followed. The Director of Immigration has to be mindful of this should discretionary powers be considered.

Yau-wai's case should be fast-tracked by authorities on both sides of the border. He should return to the mainland so that the necessary documents can be approved for him to legally live in Hong Kong. He has been unwittingly caught up in a matter over which he had no control in seemingly pitiful circumstances; this city is his home. His days of hiding from authorities have to end so that he can receive a proper education and live a normal life. But there is also a need for a tightening of oversight of visitors. Immigration officials have to find out how a child visiting with documentation and in the care of an adult was able to overstay unnoticed for so long. Rules have to be enforced.