Single mainland mothers with children born in city join Christmas Day march to ask for Hong Kong ID cards
- To take care of their families, these women have to travel north every two weeks to three months to renew travel permits
- Application for one-way permit to live in Hong Kong permanently can take years
Single mother Jojo Shek celebrated her 41st birthday on Christmas by joining an uphill march from Statue Square in Central to the official residence of Hong Kong’s leader, in hope that the government would grant her a more stable stay in the city with her 10-year-old daughter.
Marching with Shek, who was born in a village in the inland province of Hunan, were more than 20 families going through the same ordeal: single mothers from mainland China who have to travel north every two weeks to three months to renew their travel permits to the city so they can take care of their young children, who were born in Hong Kong.
Without a local job or support from the girl’s father, who left the family soon after their daughter was born, Shek can rely only on the few thousand Hong Kong dollars provided by a relative each month, and shares a roughly 80 sq ft space in a subdivided flat in Mong Kok with her child.
The young girl frequently has to take leave from school when Shek cannot find a substitute carer while she is away for weeks to renew her visa.
To move to Hong Kong permanently, mothers like Shek must obtain a one-way permit from the mainland authorities. But the mothers often find it difficult to lodge an application because their broken partnerships or marriages mean they cannot enter the city as dependents. And it could take years to get a green light from the mainland authorities as the scheme has had a daily quota of 150 since 1995.
The scheme has sparked much controversy in Hong Kong, as the local government does not have the right to vet and choose the applicants, even as the densely populated city faces increasingly fierce competition for public resources and welfare.
The Christmas march, organised by the Society for Community Organisation (SoCO) for the ninth consecutive year, was to call on the city’s immigration authority to exercise its discretionary power and grant the mothers a Hong Kong ID card, which would cut short their wait for a one-way permit.
A survey of 53 such families by SoCO from March to April found that more than 90 per cent of the mothers and 66 per cent of the children were suffering from severe depression. The families reported a median monthly income of HK$4,785 (US$611), and about one-third of the children did not have three meals a day.
“In the past nine years, we have successfully got one-way permits for about 100 single mothers from the mainland, with a shortest application time of two years,” said Sze Lai-shan, a veteran social worker at SoCO.
“There was only one case where the Hong Kong government agreed to directly grant her an ID. In that case, the husband had long died, the mother and her child had been suffering from depression,” Sze added.
Shek has been appealing to the Immigration Department with SoCo’s help for about five years, the most prolonged battle faced by the organisation so far. The marching group comprised mothers aged between 30 and 50 and children aged between six and 17.
“Currently we are helping about 70 families,” Sze said.
“In some cases, the court decided that the mother from mainland China was the guardian, but the immigration authority would not consider her need to stay in the city as a major carer.”