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Ombudsman probes Immigration Department’s mechanism for following up on unregistered birth cases

19 October 2015

The Ombudsman, Ms Connie Lau, said today (October 19) that her Office is examining the adequacy and effectiveness of the mechanism of the Immigration Department (ImmD) for following up on unregistered birth cases. She has invited members of the public to give their views on this subject to help the investigation.

 

Earlier this year, media reports covering the news of a teenage girl who fell to her death from a building noted that both the girl and her younger sister were born in Hong Kong but their parents had failed to register their births. The incident aroused wide public concern about whether the rights and well-being of children without a birth certificate are adequately protected, as well as the social problems (such as child abuse, illegal immigration and human trafficking) that may arise as a result. In this connection, the Office of The Ombudsman started a preliminary inquiry with ImmD on April 22, and a direct investigation was subsequently launched on August 24.

 

At present, all hospitals under the Hospital Authority and private hospitals have to submit to ImmD returns on new births every day. The Births and Deaths Registration Ordinance stipulates that parents of a newborn baby have a duty to register the birth within 42 days at a birth registry of ImmD. Failure to do so is an offence punishable by fine or imprisonment on summary conviction.

 

For cases of late registration of birth, ImmD indicated that it has established a follow-up mechanism. Reminder letters would be sent to the parents of the baby three months, six months and nine months after the birth to alert them to their duty. Nevertheless, there is no instruction on whether and how ImmD staff should further follow up in case the parents still do not respond after the three reminder letters have been issued. This has cast doubt on the adequacy and effectiveness of ImmD’s follow-up mechanism. While the department has reviewed and revised its relevant guidelines after the aforesaid tragic incident, questions remain on how ImmD would follow up on outstanding cases, how its senior management should monitor case progress, and whether its ancillary measures are properly installed.

 

Ms Lau said, “Whether the safety, well-being and rights of children whose births have not been registered are protected from the time of their birth until they reach adulthood is a cause for grave concern. Completing the birth registration for a baby is undoubtedly the duty of the parents. However, when the parents fail to fulfil this duty, ImmD as the authority for enforcing the Ordinance has the responsibility to take follow-up action. It would be a shame if any such tragedy could not be prevented because of possible systemic inadequacies.”

 

The ambit of this direct investigation includes:

 

(1)   the adequacy and effectiveness of ImmD’s mechanism for following up on and monitoring cases of failure to register a birth in accordance with the Ordinance;

 

(2)   the co-ordination and mutual support between ImmD and other relevant government departments for protecting children from rights impairment or even harm because their parents have failed to register their births; and

 

(3)   areas for improvement and enhancement.

 

The Ombudsman welcomes views from the public on this direct investigation. Comments in writing should reach the Office of The Ombudsman by November 18, 2015:

 

Address :30/F, China Merchants Tower, Shun Tak Centre, 168-200 Connaught Road Central, Hong Kong

 

Fax :2882 8149

 

Email : complaints@ombudsman.hk

 

 

Office of The Ombudsman
October 19, 2015

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