Experts want more done to rein in child-sex predators

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 March, 2008, 12:00am

Hong Kong is not doing enough to prevent sex offenders, or people charged with sex offences, coming into contact with children or other potential victims, child protection advocates say.

They were speaking after the jailing yesterday of Yik Seal-hong, who molested a boy in the changing room of the clubhouse at the Laguna Verde estate in Hung Hom. Yik was able to continue using the facilities even after being charged.

'One of our concerns is that during the court process - which can be very drawn out - he is basically a free person and is able to go back to the place where the alleged offence happened,' said Priscilla Lui Tsang Sun-kai, director of Against Child Abuse.

'It is important to protect the presumption of innocence, but it is equally important that we are careful to protect the interests of children and other vulnerable people,' Ms Lui said.

She reiterated her call for more discussion on the implementation of a sex offenders register. While she was not advocating such a register be entirely open to the public, information on offenders should be available to potential employers and to facilities where potential victims might be expected to be found, Ms Lui said.

Without a register, the options in Hong Kong were very limited, she said.

Her view was shared by Anthony Upham, a lecturer in criminal law at City University, who said the courts had very limited powers.

'If someone is on bail, you can impose restrictions about where they can go while they are bailed,' Professor Upham said. However, once a sentence was imposed and had been served, there was not much that could be done to control where a person went.

'We don't have in Hong Kong the same sort of developed responses that they have in, say, the UK, such as the sexual offenders' register. It does seem there is a bit of a loophole in the law here that could probably be looked at,' Professor Upham said.

The law's seeming impotence in this area was frustrating for Ray Rudowski, a resident of Laguna Verde, who was shocked to see Yik freely using the clubhouse while awaiting trial. 'Why was an alleged child molester allowed to keep using these facilities?

'Everyone believes in people being innocent until proven guilty, but the community's sensitivities and fears really need to be taken into account,' Mr Rudowski said.

While he recognised estate managers might have had their hands tied legally, he questioned how it was that prosecutors did not seek to have conditions attached to Yik's bail to limit his access to the clubhouse.

Benny Cheung, chief property manager for Goodwell Property Management, which runs Laguna Verde, said the company was seeking further legal opinion about its options in such cases. 'It is a difficult position for us,' he said, 'because we are trying to strike a balance between the rights and interests of the two parties ... we want to do the right thing'.