Deaths review reveals children's suffering at hands of parents

Most youngsters who die violently are killed by their parents, highlighting need for support to prevent suicide, a social welfare review says

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 May, 2013, 5:51am

Most children who die violently in Hong Kong are killed by their parents - usually in a murder-suicide, a review has found.

A panel of the Social Welfare Department that conducted the review also expressed concern at the number of children killing themselves and has put forward recommendations for preventing such deaths.

Of 238 children under 18 whose deaths were referred to the Coroner's Court in 2008-2009, 18 died violently at the hands of others - an increase from 11 in 2006-2007.

Of the 18 cases, 13 were killed by parents, three by relatives and two by strangers.

The panel called on the public to be aware of danger signs and seek help for people around them who might be showing suicidal tendencies and had expressed concern over arrangements for their children.

"Children are not their parents' possessions. Their lives have their own values," panel member Herman Hui Chung-shing said.

Two of the victims were new-born babies whose mothers tried to conceal their births.

One teenager got acquainted with an assailant through the internet and was killed during "compensated dating".

The report warned of the dangers of meeting people in person after becoming acquainted with them online and the risks of concealing pregnancy, especially among foreign domestic helpers.

Of the 238 deaths studied, 65 were due to natural causes. Twenty-six committed suicide, 23 died in accidents, and 18 in assaults. The causes for the rest were either unknown or medical complications.

The panel has sent recommendations for preventing such deaths to schools and government departments.

A quarter of the suicides - the youngest of whom was nine - were related to problems with school work. Others involved difficulties with family, boyfriends or girlfriends.

The panel called on children to seek help when their friends expressed a wish to commit suicide, even if this might seem "disloyal".

Panel member Dr Yu Chak-man said even some of the natural deaths might have been avoidable.

These included six infants who died while sleeping in the same bed with their parents.

He explained that these deaths were classified as "natural" because the cause of death could not be found even after autopsies. There were no signs of the babies being squashed or other injuries.

"It's a mystery from the medical point of view," Yu said.

He cited a recent study published in the British Medical Journal that showed the risk of death was five times higher in infants under three months old who slept in the same bed as their parents.

Of the 23 deaths caused by accidents, 12 occurred on roads or streets and four at home.

In one case, a mother was changing her baby's nappy beside a window. When she left to throw out the dirty nappy, the baby fell out of the open window.

In another case, the mother was mopping the floor. Her son came home from school, slipped and bumped his head. He said he was feeling sleepy, nodded off and died.

"Sometimes it's a trivial careless incident that causes regret for one's whole life," panel member Dr Maria Lee Lai-wan said.

The panel is a non-statutory body with members appointed by the Director of Social Welfare.