First Person

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 May, 2007, 12:00am

Monday was global SpankOut Day. Against Child Abuse director Priscilla Lui Tsang Sun-kai recalls a painful lesson she learnt as a child and argues that Hong Kong needs a law against corporal punishment.

When I was a child growing up in Hong Kong I wasn't subjected to corporal punishment, which was very, very unusual at the time. I was very blessed, I must say. I was certainly among the minority.

I was naughty at times, of course. My late parents and my grandmother were my mentors and I was close to them. They were very tolerant of me, particularly my grandmother.

My grandmother had a hobby and part-time job using beads to sew beautiful handbags and garments. They were pretty beads, and one day when I was in primary school I stole some of them. I took them to share with my classmates, in the way children do to gain friendship and popularity.

When my grandmother found out she was very unhappy. It wasn't because she had lost something but because we were so close and I hadn't respected the rule of informing and requesting. In another family, I assume the parents would have used corporal punishment on me.

My grandmother didn't touch me. Instead, she hung the remaining beads up with a clip where I would see it every day, reminding me what I had done to upset our relationship. It worked. I felt so ashamed that I never did anything like that again.

I wasn't conscious at the time that I was being treated differently from other children. Similarly, when we talk to people through our hotline and services they tell us how they were punished with electric wires and canes and beaten with all kind of things, but they never told anyone.

We say 'Why on earth didn't you share this with someone or tell someone what was happening?' One girl, who is now a mother of two in her 30s, said that at that time she didn't have a clue there was a problem with what was happening to her. She thought every child was treated in the same way.

Parents beat their children to make them know they have done something wrong. But we don't need a harmful, frightening way that makes children feel pain and shame. We don't need to do it in a way that leaves them unable to raise their head high, that also makes them feel angry and agitated and hateful towards their parents.

It is important that we introduce legislation because it will let the public know what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. The world is changing. It is waking up to the harm done by corporal punishment. Even if it is effective in the short term, sometimes, corporal punishment is an infringement of an individual's rights.

If children have done something wrong you have to look carefully and seriously at the hidden agenda. What are the contributing factors to their behaviour? Why do they misbehave? If you just smack them or take a cane to them you may never find out what is in their heart. The important thing is for children to speak up so they are able to build up their relationship and communicate.

Parents who use corporal punishment acknowledge that it has an impact on parent-child relationships, even though it might stop certain behaviour. They may even support legislation against it, because at the bottom of their hearts they want something to put a stop to their behaviour.

Some parents may face criminal charges for assault because they have injured their children. But when you ask if there is any legislation to say corporal punishment is illegal, you find there is none. It is a grey area.

There is a lot of tolerance in Hong Kong of corporal punishment and this tolerance comes not only from the public but also from policymakers who are very high up. We are urging them to be more decisive and courageous.

This is not a solo battle for Hong Kong. There is a global search for a common standard, and a common aim that we should not treat children by violent means, and that includes corporal punishment.

Details on Against Child Abuse's work is available at Its hotline number is 2755 1122.