Seeking to protect the little ones
The mistreatment of children is a global issue which requires a lot more public awareness. On June 29, professionals of different disciplines gathered at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) for the 'Child Protection in Chinese Societies: Challenges and Policies' symposium. They explored various topics, including problem areas, and recommended preventive measures for child abuse in Hong Kong and on the mainland.
The first child protection law on the mainland was passed in Shanghai in the 1970s. Since then, the law has covered international legislation as a guide for the mainland's regional and national laws. In 2006, the country participated in a UN initiative to protect children. On September 7, 1994, the UN extended its Convention on the Rights of Children, which was first approved in 1990. Hong Kong, too, has signed the convention.
Yet problems remain. Cases of child abuse are reported from across the country. Dr Edward Chan Ko-ling, from the HKU, led a team that surveyed several cities on child maltreatment: Xian, Tianjin, Wuhan, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hong Kong.
Team members conducted interviews with parents and children under 18 in households and with students aged 15-17 in schools. They found that many parents were either reluctant to report the truth or unaware that their children suffered abuse at the hands of siblings, classmates or other adults.
Dr David Chim, an assistant professor at HKU, has also done research on child abuse. He found that many youngsters suffered physical abuse, especially in underdeveloped and rural areas where parents often have lower education levels. Cases of sexual abuse are also more prevalent there.
In cities, meanwhile, youngsters often face neglect as their parents work hard and don't have enough time to pay attention to their children's emotional needs.
Chim said building a social support system would help tackle the problem.
Professor Leung Nai-kong, who works for the Social Welfare Department, said an important cause of child deaths in Hong Kong is maltreatment.
According to a 2006-2007 child fatality review, of the 209 child deaths reviewed, 58 per cent were from natural causes and the rest from non-natural causes. There were a total of 516 child deaths during the period.
To prevent more cases of non-natural deaths, Leung and his team published a report this year analysing past child deaths.
They made 65 suggestions about how to prevent child deaths through non-natural causes. These include teaching children how to protect themselves from physical abuse and to report domestic violence.
Another form of child maltreatment is sexual abuse.
Under Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok talked about the government's new measures against sexual offenders. Through regular checks, they seek to prevent convicted criminals from harming children again.
The scheme was established last June in collaboration with Hong Kong's police, who keep a record of every person who is known to have committed a sexual offence against a minor.
Employers can run a background check on any potential employees.
Although the scheme is voluntary for employers, Lai said he hoped it would help curb further cases of sexual abuse against children.