Four girls aged under two abused as cases rise 76pc in seven years
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Four girls under the age of two were the youngest victims in the 334 cases of child sexual abuse reported last year - the most for three years.
The figures were described by a child protection group as 'the tip of the iceberg', with reports of abuse of victims aged under 18 rising 76 per cent in the past seven years.
The number of very young victims was unprecedented, with no victims under two reported in 2009 and just one in 2008.
The Social Welfare Department said there was no indication that the age of child abuse victims was decreasing.
But the End Child Sexual Abuse Foundation said such abuse was a serious problem and that many cases went unreported.
Executive director Michelle Tam Chi-yun said that because of Chinese culture, families were reluctant to report sexual abuse, and victims were afraid to come forward.
'We believe the reported figures account for only half of the actual number,' she said.
Not only had there been an increase in reported child sexual abuse, she had 'no doubt that the real situation is getting worse'.
A department spokesman said reported cases had been on the rise since 2004 but had steadied in recent years. 'The increase in the number of newly reported cases may be the result of public education that has encouraged people to report known or suspected child sexual abuse cases,' he said.
Department figures show there were 189 reported cases in 2004, 227 in 2008 and 331 in 2009.
Government figures showed there were 343 abusers last year, of whom 39 were parents or stepparents. About a third were family members, relatives, caregivers, neighbours, family friends, friends, teachers, private tutors or coaches.
Tam said her foundation received about 100 reports of suspected child abuse cases a year and most of the victims were abused by relatives, friends and people they knew.
She said the cases included rape and molestation.
'Abusers take advantage of relationships to abuse children,' Tam said.
'In some cases, parents abused their own child and threatened the victim, saying that their family would fall apart if the sex abuse was discovered. The victims felt it would be their fault if they revealed the sex abuse.'
The department said abused children were referred to clinical psychologists for psychological assessment, and psychotherapy would be offered if needed, which could last from a few months to a few years.
Tam said a full review of the legislation that governed such abuse, including the length of jail sentences for abusers and counselling for sex offenders, was needed to offer better protection.
The number of child sexual abuse cases reported last year accounted for a third of all child abuse cases, which also include neglect, physical and psychological abuse.
The total number of cases rose by eight to 1,001 in the whole of last year. Nearly half - 488 - were reports of physical abuse.
A police spokesman said the force was closely monitoring the abuse of children and was working closely with government departments and non-governmental organisations to protect the rights of children.
'Police have established designated investigation units to conduct joint investigations into serious and complicated child abuse cases with the Social Welfare Department,' the spokesman said.
'In collaboration with SWD, the police organised child abuse-related training for different professionals, including frontline police officers, social workers and clinical psychologists to enhance the professionalism in the handling of child abuse.'
He added that police took part in campaigns to raise public awareness and to explain police procedures in the handling of child abuse.
There were 1,001 reports of children being abused last year
The number of cases that involved physical abuse: 488