Who can lend a hand?

Single families lack support from government, society

by Stella Wong

Having entered the ’90s, Hong Kong is facing an increasing number of single-parent families.

There are many reasons for the existence of single-parent families: death or permanent sickness of one’s partner, divorce, imprisonment, emigration of one of the partners and unmarried mothers.

Divorce is believed to be the main factor in most cases, according to Miss Chan Shuk Yee, assistant social work officer of the Family Resource Centre.

Statistics from the Census and Statistics Department show that the number of divorce cases increased from 5,650 to 7,454 from 1993 to 1994.

Besides, in every 1,000 Hong Kong people, there was 1.26 divorce case in that period. This 32 percent increase contributes to the increase in the number of single-parent families.

Almost all single-parent families face financial difficulties, especially for mothers who have no husbands.

“In such cases, the breadwinner in the family is lost.

“The problem would be more serious when the women do not have much working experience,” Miss Chan said.

It is difficult for a single parent to find a job, as one should spend time with the child.

Miss May Man Mi Chu, 34, whose husband died of cancer two years ago, said, “I worked at an electronics factory at first, and it only paid $3,000 a month.”

Lacking working experience was the main factor for the low pay.

Miss Man is now a clerk in an office because of a recommendation from her relative.

Miss Chan explained, “Single parents themselves avoid sharing flats with others. They are either afraid of being despised, or the women are afraid of sexual harassment by the male owners.”

After the death of her husband, Miss Man did not get any support from her parents, father or mother-in-law, and that made her frustrated.

Her son was always being pointed at and laughed at by his classmates, as well as parents, teachers and even his headmaster in his previous school.

Miss Lo Yin Ching, a social worker in the Caritas Social Centre, said communications are usually lacking in single-parent families.

“Many parents hit their children as a means to release their tension, but the children would follow suit in school,” Miss Lo explained.

Single parents mostly expect their children to live up to their expectations.

“I always blamed my son for not getting full marks in dictations in the past,” Miss Man said.

She said she always ignored her son’s feelings until the social workers talked to her.

In the case of divorce, children are usually caught in a tug-of-war between the fathers and the mothers, and some children may falsely believe that they are responsible for the divorce and feel guilty.

Perhaps it is better for single-parent families to rely on their own.

Single-parent families do not get much help from the government. Although these families can apply for the Comprehensive Social Security Allowance, which is available for all Hong Kong people who have financial problems, no priority is given to single-parent families.

In the past, the allowance only provided $1,185 to a child and $965 to the parent per month. What’s more, the allowance would be deducted if the family’s income exceeded $838.

According to the Financial Budget in 1995, the standard Comprehensive Social Security Allowance payments will be increased by $205 a month for children and by $200 a month for single parents.

However, Miss Man still wants the government to run more daily nurseries for the parents and be more concerned about housing problems.

“The government should enhance education to reduce discrimination among single-parent families,” said Miss Chan.

Fortunately, there are still a number of voluntary agencies which are quite helpful. One of the examples is The Children Land in the Caritas Social Centre. It helps the children affected to have better development.

Counselling on academic and psychological problems is provided for the children aged 6 to 12 who are in primary schools.

“Seventy percent of the clients are from these families,” said Miss Lo.

Another example is the Concern and Mutual-Assisted Society organized by a group of single mothers in the Caritas Social Centre.

Miss Man is now the chairperson of the committee.

“We gather biweekly and treat one another as our own sisters.

Participation in the centre changed her and her son a lot.

Miss Man said that she has half an hour sharing time with her son every night now. “We support and confide in each other,” she said.

While most of the clients of the Caritas Social Centre come from eastern Kowloon, the clients of the Family Resource Centre in Tuen Mun provide services throughout the New Territories.

“We provide them with different kinds of services to help them adapt to the new lives,” she said.

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