Poll spurs call for law to prevent home-alone cases

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 January, 2008, 12:00am

About one in eight children in Tsing Yi say they have been left home alone overnight at least once, according to a survey released yesterday by a welfare group.

Even though parents can be charged with child abuse in such cases, the findings have prompted fresh calls for specific legislation to outlaw leaving young children at home unattended.

Over the past month the Boys' and Girls' Clubs Association of Hong Kong talked to 507 parents across the city and interviewed 509 Primary Three to Six pupils living in Tsing Yi.

A total of 88 per cent of the pupils said their parents had left them at home alone. Just over two-thirds of these said they were usually left unattended between noon and 6pm. And 11.5 per cent said they had been left home alone between 6pm and 6am the next day.

The figures seemed to correspond with those obtained from the poll of parents. Although only 26 per cent of parents said they had left children alone at home, 12 per cent admitted they had left their children at home overnight.

The three most commonly cited reasons were 'going to the market', 'going to work', or 'handling some unexpected issues'. Four per cent went out for 'entertainment'.

Public concerns about children being left home alone have been heightened after several family tragedies in recent months.

Early this month, an eight-year-old called police for help after being left at his Sham Shui Po home alone overnight. A four-year-old Nepali girl fell from a 13th-floor flat in Jordan after being left unattended in a room.

Last October, a divorced mother crossed the border for a night of entertainment, leaving behind her five-year-old daughter at home in Sham Shui Po. Last August, two toddlers suffered serious injuries in a fire at their Tuen Mun home, where they had been left unattended while their parents went to work.

James Leung Wing-yee, the association's assistant director, said: 'We appreciate the difficulties faced by parents, but we do agree that it is the right time for the government to consider introducing laws.'

One 11-year-old said he had often been left home alone but he insisted: 'I am old enough to take care of myself.' He opposed a new law, saying: 'If my mother is caught and put in jail, I will miss her very much and no one will take care of me.'

Researcher Raymond Lee Lut-man said children tended to overestimate their abilities and this could be dangerous. Findings showed nearly 95 per cent of pupils believed they could take care of themselves.