Wed, Nov 13, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Hong Kong’s protesting teenagers facing arrest, bullets and foster care

The teenagers, unlike their peers in the West, place an added value on their freedoms because of fears they could lose them as Beijing increases its control of the territory

By Shawna Kwan  /  Bloomberg

His mother, who was present, confirmed that.

The teenager envisioned no other home for himself other than the Cantonese-speaking territory.

He would stay, he said, until Hong Kong is not the territory he knows — that is until everyone speaks Mandarin, the language of the mainland.

Managing such young protesters also complicates policing.

In response to a request for comment, the Hong Kong police said that they strive to interview children only when a guardian is present. They also “consider each case on its own merits having regards to the individual circumstances” before deciding whether to apply for a care or protection order for minors, the statement said.

The 14-year-old who was shot in the thigh was arrested for taking part in rioting and assaulting a police officer, although he has since been released on bail. His name has not been made public and he could not be reached for this article.

After the incident, Hong Kong police released a statement saying that the officer had fired in self-defense.

Underage protesters can also be split up from their families.

If a court order is granted, they can be sent into foster care for weeks, said Johnny So, a barrister who has represented minors.

Foster-care institutions in Hong Kong often house teenagers with serious family or emotional issues, and some underage protesters are not used to such an environment, he said.

He recalled one of his clients who was sent to such facility for a month.

“She wasn’t happy in there and cried while we visited her. She’s from a normal family, not that type of problem child,” So said.

When the former British colony was handed over to China in 1997, close to half of those between the ages of 18 and 29 considered themselves Hong Kongers, data from the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute showed. The number has now risen to 75 percent.

Meanwhile, those who view themselves as Chinese has slumped from 16.5 percent in 1997 to just 2.7 percent.

Protests have been part of Hong Kong’s collective memory for generations. During peaceful demonstrations some marchers bring their young children along.

The territory witnessed one of its largest rallies in 1989 over the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Beijing and there is a rally each year in Hong Kong to memorialize the event.

There are also regular smaller-scale demonstrations around everything from conservation to poverty alleviation.

Teenagers have grown up to play bigger roles in the territory’s political movement. Joshua Wong (黃之鋒), one of the most recognizable faces of the Hong Kong protest movement, rose to prominence in 2011 while protesting against a government plan to introduce a national education curriculum when he was just 14 years old.

Wong appeared before the US Congress in September to solicit support for US legislation backing Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters.

Wong said in an interview that he decided to protest against the national education curriculum because it was something that was related to him directly: The students had a stake.

He thinks the protesters are becoming younger because they see the Hong Kong government’s controls as authoritarian.

“If the government didn’t introduce the national education curriculum, I wouldn’t start protesting,” Wong said.

On a Sunday afternoon last month, two masked 14-year-olds left a rally in Central that was terminated early by the police.

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