The mysterious death of a mother and her 15-year-old son at a public housing estate in Tuen Mun earlier this month has thrown a harsh spotlight on the Education Bureau (EDB), after it was learned that the teenager had not attended school for five years.
Their bodies were found inside their flat at Shan King Estate along Ming Kum Road in Tuen Mun on Sept. 7 after neighbors complained of foul odor emanating from the 13th floor unit.
According to EDB guidelines, if a parent does not have a valid reason for not letting their child go to school, the bureau could issue an attendance order requiring them to bring the child to do so, Apple Daily reports.
So Yuen-yee, EDB’s principal assistant secretary for school development, said the bureau stopped following up on the case after multiple visits to Shan King Estate failed to locate the child.
The bureau admitted that no attendance order had been issued over the past five years because it did not have the full address of the child’s residence since 2012.
According to So, the EDB unit in charge non-attendance cases has 21 inspectors at present, and that in the academic year 2015/2016 there were around 3,600 cases of students skipping school for over seven days.
Of these cases, 1,700 were children below 15 years old while the rest were older. Most of them had gone back to school, and the rest were either on leave or going through other programs.
In the past five years, the EDB has not issued any attendance orders.
In a special meeting at the Legislative Council on Thursday, lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung criticized the bureau for its lack of action on the boy’s absence from school, and added that the bureau should be more responsible.
He accused the EDB of rationalizing the students’ absence from school, adding that such cases should be recorded in detail to prevent similar tragedies in the future.
Fellow Legislator Andrew Wan Siu-kin also slammed the EDB for apparently giving up on the boy’s case, adding that the bureau probably did not have enough manpower to carry out its duties.
Legislator Aron Kwok Wai-keung said he could not understand why the EDB could not find the boy’s residential address. “How did he manage to register in the school in the first place?” Kwok said.
Legislator Kwok Ka-ki questioned the bureau’s efficiency, noting that a report compiled by the University of Hong Kong in 2014 showed that there were over 40,000 “hidden youths” in Hong Kong.
Ma Sau-ching, assistant director for family and child welfare at the Social Welfare Department, said the government cares about “hidden youths”, but admits the office has no data about them.
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