Why Hong Kong would benefit from having a children's commissioner
After much deliberation, the government has finally announced a voluntary scheme on new job-background checks for sex offences starting from December.
While much focus is on the flaws of a voluntary scheme, Against Child Abuse has all along called for a comprehensive approach to child protection. This involves the need for a child policy, a set of child ordinances in the spirit of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and a children's commission which oversees the implementation of the convention.
A child policy would have laid down the principle that the best interest of the child is a primary concern. A children's commission would have made clear that children, being physically and developmentally immature, need special protection. This would enlighten the debate on serious sex offenders' right to choice of employment versus children's right to protection. Legislative measures making the scheme more effective while better protecting the privacy of offenders would have been seriously considered from the start.
For child sexual abuse, a record check for sexual offences is but one means of prevention. Had there been a children's commission, a great deal of assistance could be provided to the government to involve departments that should be concerned with the subject such as education, food and health, and labour and welfare bureaus. This is better than leaving it to the Security Bureau to shoulder the promotion of a voluntary scheme. This is a golden opportunity to educate the public that most child sexual abuse involves family members or friends rather than employees in child-related work.
Parents should avoid situations that put their children at risk and at the same time teach children who are old enough how to protect themselves. Employers need to know the scheme only covers new job applicants and certain sex offences with successful conviction. There is always the first offence before a record exists. The scheme does not cover offences committed overseas or overseas employees. Employers should review procedures so that abuse is less likely to occur and develop a code of conduct for employees with regular audits of compliance.
Offenders' welfare is not to be ignored. Ensuring appropriate risk assessment, therapy, rehabilitation and management is in place would not only benefit offenders but also further protect children. There is much more to child protection than the voluntary scheme.
Dr Patrick Cheung, chairperson, Against Child Abuse