- Security chief John Lee says of the 3,001 people arrested as of October 31, 165 were younger than 16 years old
- Nineteen of those charged with offences such as rioting and possession of offensive weapons
There has been more than a fourfold rise in under two months in the number of students younger than 16 arrested during the ongoing unrest in Hong Kong, a trend lawmakers have described as "worrying".
Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu on Wednesday told the Legislative Council that 3,001 people had been arrested in connection with the protests as of October 31 and that 165 were younger than 16 years old " up from 36 by September 11, according to figures obtained by the South China Morning Post.
Social work sector lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun said the surge in youth arrests suggested that police had changed their strategy to mainly target university and secondary school students.
"It is worrying. The rise in the number may explain why the government was reluctant to suspend classes because it is worried secondary school students will come out to the streets," he said, referring to the Education Bureau's decision to close schools on Thursday only after the city had already been gripped by travel chaos and protests for three straight weekdays.
The bureau's announcement came a day after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor refused to make the move to avoid falling into a "protesters' trap".
Education groups, including the pro-democracy Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union, slammed officials for being irresponsible, overriding education with politics.
Students have played a key role in the protests, which were triggered by a now-withdrawn extradition bill in June but have since morphed into a wider anti-government campaign. Aside from organising class boycotts, some secondary school students have been on the front line of protests.
By late August, police said 15 Hongkongers aged between 12 and 15 had been arrested. Since then, the figure has been on the rise amid an escalation of violence in clashes between protesters and police.
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Lee said that police had put in place clear guidelines for handling child or juvenile arrestees to protect their rights, including making all reasonable efforts to tell their parents or guardians to come to the police station.
But Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung said he had heard of cases where officers were reluctant to tell the families of arrested youths where their children were as they looked for them.
Cheung said even if parents found their child, they could not meet them immediately.
"These are different from the guidelines," he said.
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