The op-ed by Grenville Cross SC recently published in the SCMP, “Hong Kong’s children need better protection of their rights” is worthy of our attention and comment. Vision First applauds the advocate for attempting to shed light on what constitute the best interest of children and how the government is on the right path to deliver better policies and reforms, albeit slowly.
However, Grenville Cross SC may not be aware of the appalling infringement of the rights of refugee children. Vision First therefore invite him to visit refugee families that are conspicuously sidestepped by the same administration he states is working towards eradicating poverty and enhancing the livelihood of the poor. He would then witness first-hand how children with refugee parentage are forced to endure the shameful conditions the government claims to be tackling.
The pattern is as disgraceful as it is widespread and Vision First repeats it emphatically: refugee parents are compelled to work illegally to pay living and education costs inexplicably only covered by the government in part; mothers worry their children will go hungry when meager food rations are consumed before the next three monthly collection; children dejectedly skip school when travelling allowances are exhausted; students are discriminate against because they cannot afford to buy school books, lunch-boxes, uniforms, or join extra-curriculum activities, or bring cake to birthday parties.
Nobody is under any illusion about the challenges and cost of raising children in our expensive city. Basic but necessary expenses disregarded by the government can only be met by refugee parents if they either humble themselves by begging, or stoically risk incarceration by engage in illegal work, both activities presenting predictable and unenviable drawbacks.
While charity is neither sufficient nor dependable in the long term (NGO workers cherry-pick the fortunate), work is outlawed as a serious crime punishable by a mandatory custodial sentence (maximum 36 month jail and 50,000$ fine). Since parents are stigmatized as unwelcome vagrants denied legal and economic rights, refugee children are often condemned to live without one at home if a parent is jailed for earning money for food, clothes, transport or school.
All this happening in dreadful, unsanitary living conditions, frequently in slums, and under unending psychological distress. In fact, refugee children are condemned to suffer 40 percent below the poverty line, without any prospects of improving prospects as parents are legally prevented from earning a living. And this without taking into account the statelessness they are generally condemned to when parents are fearful of their consulate authorities.
Vision First raises alarming questions about the vulnerability of refugee children:
- Why are refugee children ignored despite falling well below what is provided to the poorest resident children?
- Why do authorities fail to address the huge criticism in UN reports, including this one by the Committee on the Rights of the Child?
- Will the Child Protection Institute promote the rights and wellbeing of refugee children, who are the veritable invisible and untouchable in our society?
- When will HK government safeguard the inherent rights of these children?