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Health and wellness

Cross-border Hong Kong children without fathers are ‘under mental stress’ as mainland Chinese mothers struggle amid visa issues

Society for Community Organisation calls for governments on both sides to consider cases and grant such women the right to stay in city

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 May, 2018, 5:32pm
UPDATED : Monday, 14 May, 2018, 10:35am

As Hongkongers celebrate Mother’s Day, a group of children in the city can only send long-distance well wishes or spend limited time with the most important women in their lives. For them, mum is so close, yet so far – just across the border and with no permit to stay long term in the city.

A study on 53 such single-parent families by the Society for Community Organisation, an NGO, released on Sunday revealed that a high proportion of these children and their mothers suffered from mental and physical health issues.

Mostly born in Hong Kong to mainland Chinese mothers and local fathers who have died or abandoned the family, the children have no household registration number across the border and therefore cannot study in public schools there or enjoy benefits available to mainland Chinese.

Cross-border pupils see less intense Hong Kong primary school competition near mainland China

Their mothers cannot apply to stay in Hong Kong permanently to raise them, as without the fathers’ signatures, these women cannot qualify for one-way permits. They have to apply for a visa to Hong Kong once every few months, but are ineligible to find jobs while in the city as they do not hold a Hong Kong identity card.

According to the SoCO report, about half of the children from the 53 families surveyed suffered from health or learning issues, including psychosis and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), while close to 70 per cent of mothers have long-term illnesses such as back pain and depression.

In general, ADHD affects about one in 20, or 5 per cent, of Hong Kong children, according to the Department of Health.

SoCO organiser Sze Lai-shan said cross-border children and their mothers could suffer from great stress because of the challenges they faced, especially when the women lack an income.

Part of the pressure comes from the disruption to the lives of the children when the mothers have to return to mainland China to renew their visas.

Cross-border chaos as children face 4-hour journey to Hong Kong schools

“We had a case of a child who could not attend school due to mental problems and even attempted suicide,” she said.

The children’s education is also affected, as some miss school while accompanying their mothers on trips back to mainland China.

A mother in such a situation, who wished to be known only as Fung, said her seven-year-old son had special education needs and suffered from ADHD and unstable emotions.

I once left my son with my husband, and his ex-wife hit our child
Fung, mainland Chinese mother

Her husband abandoned the family five years ago and refused to help her get a one-way permit.

She shuttles between mainland China and Hong Kong often, and takes her son with her.

“I once left my son with my husband, and his ex-wife hit our child, so now I don’t want to take that risk,” she said tearfully.

Fung’s son must skip school to go to mainland China with her, resulting in homework piling up and causing the boy to feel stressed.

To address the issue of mainland benefits for cross-border children born in Hong Kong, a new policy was introduced last year for such pupils to enrol in public schools in Shenzhen.

But even so, it is only for primary schools, making Fung, a Shanwei native, reluctant to move her son to the neighbouring city.

Fung and her son live with her sister’s family in Hong Kong as she is unable to pay for rent without a job. This has also caused tensions between the families, with her brother-in-law suggesting Fung and her son leave.

SoCO said it was in contact with 200 such families in Hong Kong, and added the actual figure could be higher.

It called on authorities on both sides to speed up procedures and exercise discretion in granting such mothers the right to settle in Hong Kong.