LCQ6: Support for cross-boundary families

     Following is a question by the Hon Paul Chan Mo-po and a reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (March 2):


     Marriages between mainlanders and Hong Kong residents are increasingly common.  According to statistics, the divorce rate of such marriages is higher than 50%, and the statistics have not yet included cases in which the couples are separated but not divorced because one of the parties is afraid that his/her One-way Exit Permit application will be rejected.  Just taking the Harmony House as an example, more than 8 000 requests for assistance from mainland women are received by it each year, and 60% of them involve domestic violence.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it knows the respective numbers of divorce cases of marriages between mainlanders and Hong Kong residents in each of the past five years, and among such cases, the number of those in which the wives were holders of Two Way Permit (TWP) and, as estimated by the authorities, the number of female holders of TWP in Hong Kong at present who have divorced their husbands with Hong Kong resident status;

(b) given that holders of TWP can neither take up employment in Hong Kong nor apply for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA), and in response to requests for assistance from mainland women holding TWP, who have divorced or are abused after they came to Hong Kong, and their children, the Government has indicated that holders of TWP can apply for public rental housing (PRH) under the Compassionate Rehousing category and the Director of Social Welfare has from time to time exercised discretion to grant CSSA to new arrivals, of the respective numbers of female holders of TWP who had been allocated PRH under the Compassionate Rehousing category in each of the past five years and the age distribution of their children, the number of female holders of TWP being granted CSSA by discretion, the amount granted and the number of years of such grants; and in respect of these two types of assistance, the number of female holders of TWP whose applications had been rejected and the reasons for rejection; and

(c) whether it had assessed in the past three years the social problems caused by the high rate of divorce of marriages between mainlanders and Hong Kong residents; if so, of the findings; if not, the reasons for that; and the support services provided by the Government to the affected children, so as to enable their healthy development both physically and mentally?



     The Administration always attaches importance to the needs of cross-boundary families, in particular the interests of the children members in these families.  The relevant policy bureaux and departments have been providing support services in their respective areas of responsibilities for families which meet the eligibility criteria for the respective services.  Representatives from the Home Affairs Bureau and other relevant bureaux and departments also attended meetings of the "Subcommittee to Study Issues Relating to Mainland-HKSAR Families" under the House Committee of the Legislative Council to explain to Members and relevant organisations the Government's policies and services for cross-boundary families and members of these families who are holders of Two-way Permit (TWP), as well as to listen to their views.

     On behalf of the Administration, I provide the consolidated response to the three parts of the question raised by the Hon Paul Chan as follows:

(a) The Administration does not have the number of divorce cases involving marriages between mainlanders and Hong Kong residents.  According to information provided by the Census and Statistics Department (C&SD), in view of the growing needs for statistics relating to cross-boundary families, C&SD has enhanced the design of the 2011 Population Census (the Census).  During the Census, C&SD will collect the trial estimates on the number of TWP holders who are living with their family members in Hong Kong and some of their basic demographic information (eg their relationship with the household head and sex, etc).

(b) According to information provided by the Housing Department, under the prevailing policy, given that holders of TWP are only permitted to stay in Hong Kong on a temporary basis, they are not eligible for the Compassionate Rehousing Scheme under the public housing policy.

     As the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme is non-contributory and funded entirely from general revenue, its recipients must be Hong Kong residents.  Persons who are not Hong Kong residents, including holders of TWP, are not eligible for CSSA.  As such, no CSSA applications from holders of TWP have ever been approved on a discretionary basis.

(c) The Administration has not conducted research studies on the social problems caused by divorce cases involving marriages between mainlanders and Hong Kong residents.  To ensure the healthy physical and mental development of children from the concerned families, various policy bureaux and departments are committed to providing support for them.  In fact, children from cross-boundary families with Hong Kong resident identity are eligible for all public services for local children, regardless of whether their parents are holders of TWP.

     On welfare services, the 61 Integrated Family Service Centres (IFSCs) and two Integrated Services Centres over the territory provide needy citizens (including families of marriages between mainlanders and Hong Kong residents and the children of such families who live in Hong Kong) with a continuum of preventive, supportive and remedial welfare services, including counselling, family life education, parent-child activities, support/mutual help groups and referral services, etc.  Social workers of these centres will thoroughly assess and take care of the specific needs of service users and provide them with the appropriate services.

     To support families which cannot take care of their children because of various reasons, the Social Welfare Department (SWD) has been subsidising non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to provide various day and residential child care services for needy children.  Fee subsidies for these services are available to service users in need.  Children with parents who are holders of TWP can also use the services and apply for the fee subsidies.

     Moreover, SWD also subvents the International Social Service Hong Kong Branch (ISS-HK) to operate the "Cross-boundary and Inter-country Casework Service" to help people facing individual and family problems arising from boundary or geographical separation, including children of marriages between mainlanders and Hong Kong residents who are living in Hong Kong.  Services provided include enquiries, counselling, emergency assistance, various groups and activities and referral service, etc.

     On education, the Education Bureau has been providing nine-year free and universal basic education through public sector primary and secondary schools, and has extended free education to include senior secondary education starting from the 2008/09 school year.  In addition, the Education Bureau also provides assistance to eligible students under various student financial assistance schemes including the Pre-primary Education Voucher Scheme, the Student Travel Subsidy Scheme and the School Textbook Assistance Scheme, etc.  For students living in the Mainland and crossing the boundary to attend schools in Hong Kong, the relevant government departments have been providing more convenient and safer immigration clearance and transportation services for them, especially for those who are of tender age.

     On medical services, under the prevailing arrangement, holders of Hong Kong Identity Card and children who are Hong Kong residents and under the age of eleven are "Eligible Persons" who are eligible for public healthcare services at subsidised rate, including accident and emergency, inpatient, outpatient and community services.  The concerned children may also use the various services provided by the Department of Health, which include the Family Health Service, Student Health Service Centres, Adolescent Health Programme, School Dental Care Service, Childhood Immunisation Programme and Childhood Influenza Vaccination Subsidy Scheme, etc.

     On housing, a person under the age of 18 will be deemed to have fulfilled the seven-year residence requirement for the waiting list for public rental housing (PRH) if he/she has established Hong Kong birth status as permanent resident or if either one of his/her parents has lived in Hong Kong for seven years.  As for existing PRH tenants, they can apply to the Housing Department to add their children to their PRH tenancies as authorised occupants, subject to the possession of right of abode in Hong Kong by the children concerned and the fulfilment of other eligibility requirements for tenancy addition (such as tenant's possession of custodian right of the children concerned).  This is irrespective of whether the children concerned were born in Hong Kong and what the marital status of their parents is.

     If the concerned children are new arrival children, various policy bureaux and departments will provide them with specific services to assist them in adapting to the new environment and integrating into society.  The Home Affairs Department has been coordinating the public services for new arrivals (including new arrival children).  Moreover, the Chief Executive has, in his 2010-11 Policy Address, announced that the Home Affairs Bureau would lead a dedicated team to step up and co-ordinate the relevant support services (including the district-based integration programmes) and to enhance the collaboration with NGOs and district organisations, so as to facilitate the early integration of new arrivals into the local community.

     Individual policy bureaux and departments have also provided targeted services for new arrival children.  For example, the IFSCs and the integrated children and youth services centres operated by SWD and NGOs organise groups and activities for new arrival children from time to time to help them adapt to the new environment and provide them with the appropriate services according to their specific needs.  The Education Bureau also provides the six-month full-time "Initiation Programme", runs the "Induction Programme" through NGOs and provides schools with the "School-based Support Scheme Grant", which aim to help new arrival children to integrate into the local community and overcome their learning difficulties.

     The relevant policy bureaux and departments will continue to provide appropriate social services for children from cross-boundary families who are affected by the divorce of their parents, and will continue to monitor the service demands for planning the relevant services.

Ends/Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Issued at HKT 17:36