Push to reclassify domestic violence as a serious crime

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 September, 2005, 12:00am

The government is seeking to amend the law on domestic violence to make it a serious crime, as the city experiences a dramatic increase in child and spouse abuse.

There were 841 cases of spouse abuse in the first three months of this year - up 35 per cent from 620 in the same period last year - and 177 cases of child abuse, up 53 per cent from 116.

Director of Social Welfare Paul Tang Kwok-wai said the Health, Welfare and Food Bureau and Department of Justice were studying a domestic violence law that would have a stronger deterrent effect and provide better legal protection for victims.

Mr Tang was speaking on radio a day after closure of an inquest into the brutal deaths of a Tin Shui Wai family of four that brought strong criticism of the lack of response by police and social workers to the wife's pleas for help. The court called for 'zero tolerance' of domestic violence.

'Zero tolerance is a government policy and we believe police also follow that policy. However, police or social workers are not enough. What we need is support from the whole community, especially family members,' Mr Tang said.

The planned amendment 'involves an overall legal policy'.

'My focus is on how effective it will be and whether we need to put [domestic violence] under one single ordinance,' Mr Tang said.

Under the present Domestic Violence Ordinance, victims have to apply for court injunctions through civil proceedings to prohibit abusers from approaching them for up to six months.

That law does not criminalise family violence as such, but abusers may be liable for criminal charges under other ordinances including the Crime Ordinance and the Offences Against the Person Ordinance.

Anti-violence activist Ng Wai-ching, said there was an urgency to amend the law to make family violence a crime under the Domestic Violence Ordinance.

'But we strongly believe that both families and police would take domestic violence more seriously if it was a serious crime under the Domestic Violence Ordinance,' said Ms Ng, service co-ordinator of the Association Concerning Sexual Violence Against Women.

Liu Ngan-fung, a member of the Hong Kong Women's Coalition on Equal Opportunities which represents 13 women's groups in Hong Kong, agreed.

Ms Liu accepted the explanation from the Social Welfare Department, which has attributed the drastic rise in the number of reported child and spouse abuse cases to a higher public awareness of the problem since the Tin Shui Wai family tragedy.

But Ms Liu criticised both the police and the Social Welfare Department for failing to admit their negligence in the Tin Shui Wai case.

Mr Tang welcomed the recommendations given by the court on Monday to tackle domestic violence, including zero tolerance and a new approach by the police. He said the department had been working in the same direction.

The Social Welfare Department yesterday insisted that its workers involved in the case had done their best and there were no plans for disciplinary action against them.

The department said its focus was to improve the system and training for social workers.

Police also said they had provided training to improve understanding about domestic violence but admitted that there was always 'room for improvement'.