The Immigration Department has arrested the parents of three children aged 17 to 19 who have been living undocumented since birth, after a tragedy involving undocumented children prompted the department to investigate similar cases.

The department discovered that the siblings had been living with their Hong Kong father and Indonesian mother, but they never attended school and were only educated through the internet. They never went to doctors when they were sick, but they were in good health when discovered, the Apple Daily reported.

William Fung Pak-ho, assistant director of the Immigration Department, said the registration should be a simple process. “I have never thought that parents would leave their children undocumented, which damaged their interests. I was shocked.”

The father was arrested for allegedly breaking the Births and Deaths Registration Ordinance. The mother, a former domestic helper, was arrested for suspected overstaying after her contract expired.

The case was transferred to the Social Welfare Department to follow up.

A birth registry in Hong Kong. Photo: Gov HK.

In April, a pair of sisters, aged 14 and 15, who had been living undocumented since birth were discovered after the elder sister jumped to her death from their home in Repulse Bay.

Following the tragedy, the department investigated case records from July 1, 1997 to August 31, 2015, and found 55 similar cases.

In 22 of these cases, the department has been able to locate the parents and is arranging for the late registrations of birth for their children. Investigation of ten cases out of 22 have been completed, including the case of the three siblings.

Half of the children discovered were under three years old. So far twelve people have been arrested.

William Fung Pak-ho, Assistant Director (Enforcement & Removal Assessment) of the Immigration Department.

Between July 1, 1997 and August 31 this year, there were 1.16 million births registered. Of those, 557 were registered more than 12 months after the date of birth.

Fung said the excuses given by the parents were mostly lacking knowledge in law, being too busy or having family issues.

Under the current system, the department will send reminder letters to parents who fail to register a birth within 42 days. Letters are sent to their last known address at three, six and nine months after the birth.

If no connections with the parents can be established, the department may ask hospitals to provide the family’s contact information.

The cases will be forwarded to the investigation division for follow-up if they are yet to be reached, which they may be prosecuted.

It is an offence if anyone deliberately fails to register the birth of a child as within 42 days. Offenders are liable to a maximum $2,000 fine or up to six months’ imprisonment.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.