§ 16. Mr. T. GRIFFITHS
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will make an investigation as to whether, under the mui tsai system of Hong Kong, the mui tsai girls of any household do, upon the death of the owner, become the property of concubines in the household, and are disposed of by them for cash, with other elements in the estate of the deceased owner?
§ 19. Mr. CHARLES EDWARDS
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether the records of the Colonial Office show that mui tsai of Hong Kong, of quite tender years, are frequently compelled to labour over 12 hours a day, and that cases have been established in the open court where these children have been forced to work up to as long as 18 and 20 hours in one day?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The House will recollect that I asked hon. Members to postpone their questions on this subject in order that I might communicate with the Governor of Hong Kong. The recent occurrences in the Colony have unfortunately prevented either the Governor or myself from dealing with this matter as expeditiously as I had hoped, but I have now received a telegram from the Governor stating that his Government in consultation with the societies for the protection and for the abolition of mui tsai will draw up a scheme for the abolition of the system as soon as possible. Both the Government and the societies point out that this process must take some little time. I have directed the issue without delay of a proclamation making it clear to employers and employed that the status of mui tsai as understood in China will not in future be recognised in Hong Kong and in particular that no compulsion of any kind to prevent girls over the age of 12 215 leaving their adopted parents at any time will be allowed. It has been pointed out to me by the Government and the societies that the issue of this proclamation will involve some risk of exposing a number of girls to the wiles of unscrupulous persons, and that before the girls are encouraged to leave their employers it would be very desirable to have some scheme to provide for their future. It is indeed obvious in view of the numbers involved that it will be beyond the power either of charitable institutions or of the Government to deal adequately with the situation should any large proportion desire to leave their present homes immediately. I have, therefore, instructed the Governor that mui tsai should be warned in the proclamation that until accommodation can be provided for them elsewhere they should not leave the shelter of their present homes except in case of ill treatment and after reference to the Chinese Secretariat, and I have also said that they should be specially warned against the other danger referred to by the Governor. Although it is obvious that an old established custom cannot be altered at a moment's notice, I desire to make it clear that both the Governor and I are determined to effect the abolition of the system at the earliest practicable date, and I have indicated to the Governor that I expect the change to be carried out within a year.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Is it not a fact that in the notification to the mui tsai they are told that if they are entreated they can come out, although there be no accommodation?
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
What will happen if, during the next 12 months, steps are taken to shift these girls off to Canton? Will attempts be made to retain these girls in Hong Kong until accommodation is provided for them?