Hong Kong threatens pro-democracy teens with foster care

HONG KONG—Two Hong Kong teenagers may be taken from their families for participating in pro-democracy protests that overtook the city for more than two months. At court hearings later this month, judges will decide whether to approve requests by police to remove a 14-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy, detained separately, from their parents’ custody.

According to Patricia Ho, a human rights lawyer representing the boy, the move appears to be aimed at scaring the parents of young protesters who are trying to continue the mission of the Umbrella Movement. “It is quite shocking. If a parent allowed their child to go participate in protests, and then it could be said they are neglecting the child, it would certainly impose more fear,” Ho told Quartz.

Such applications, which can be made by police, social welfare workers, or Hong Kong courts, are usually reserved for cases when children face severe harm, such as being abandoned or involved in prostitution or drug trafficking. The current case seems retributive, Ho says. Authorities told the teenage boy upon his arrest in November during the dismantling of a protest site in Kowloon, “We’re going to lock you up in a boy’s home,” according to Ho.

In both cases, the police say that parents are failing to exercise proper guardianship over their children. The boy is at home ahead of his hearing on Jan. 12th, according to Ho. The girl was detained earlier this month for using chalk to draw flowers on a staircase once plastered with post-it notes of support for the protests. After spending two nights in a children’s home she was sent home to her father this week, ahead of a hearing on Jan. 19th. She told the Ming Pao, a Hong Kong-based Chinese-language publication yesterday that she has “no regrets” about participating in the protests.

The care and protection order that police have applied for includes a range of outcomes other than taking the child from his or her home, including a forced curfew or visits from a social worker. Already, protesters and children’s rights groups are rallying behind them. Ho said, “If [the boy] is taken away, it would be outcry.”

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