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Seat Panic: Hong Kong Parents Fight Influx of Mainland Children

  • VOA News

A foreign domestic helper carrying a child walks with another child outside a school in Hong Kong, Feb. 26, 2013.

A foreign domestic helper carrying a child walks with another child outside a school in Hong Kong, Feb. 26, 2013.

Parents in Hong Kong say they are organizing for a protest Sunday against mainland Chinese children taking scarce spots in the territory's pre-schools.

October is the main month for registering young children for Hong Kong's pre-schools, with parents fighting for space in an annual rush that locals call "seat panic."

Parents said this year has been even worse than normal, with massive registration lines and mainland parents camping out for up to a week to secure a spot for their children. The spectacle has been front page fodder for Hong Kong's newspapers this month.

The mainland children, who have citizenship on the basis of their birth in Hong Kong, are allowed spaces in the crowded pre-school system on an equal basis with children who reside in Hong Kong. That is what a growing group of parents want the government to change.

They said they wanted to be given priority placement over families that live in nearby Guangdong province.

The battle is part of a larger concern among residents of Hong Kong, which is already very crowded.

A woman who only wanted to be identified as Ms. Tang, told VOA's Cantonese service that people from across the border were making things very difficult for local parents.

"The mainlanders grab milk powders, hospital beds and kindergarten seats. They grab everything. The situation is more serious in north Hong Kong. There have been very long lines this year," she said.

But the allure of attending pre-school in Hong Kong is highly prized by many mainlanders, who are willing to make many sacrifices for their kids to get in. A mother who identified herself as Ms. Chan said that having her child go to a Hong Kong pre-school was worth the headaches.

"It would be a lot of hardship to cross the border to go to school in Hong Kong, so I don't want my kid to get up at 6 a.m. every morning and spend half a day traveling, so I want to buy a flat and live in Hong Kong, and let my husband commute to work in Shenzhen [mainland China] instead," she said.

The Hong Kong government has said it is taking the complaints seriously. Some parents said that officials have privately offered some possible concessions, such as online registration and proximity priority within the territory. But they said the proposals were not enough.

(This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Cantonese service.)
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