In Hong Kong, family violence and suicides are so common that their occurrence is often taken for granted. Occasionally, sensational cases, such as murder-suicides involving parents and children, manage to draw public attention to an array of social ills contributing to the tragedies. But the underlying issues are soon buried as new headlines emerge. The growing insensitivity among the public does not help to improve the situation.
Thankfully, the problems are put into perspective in a study of deaths involving youngsters. It was found that only one-third of the 238 cases referred to the Coroner's Court in 2008-09 were natural deaths. Of the 18 who died in violent attacks, 13 were killed by parents. Suicide is also on the rise, up 8 percentage points from 2006-07 to 26 cases. The youngest was just nine years old. Accidents caused by negligence are another common cause, according to the panel appointed by the Social Welfare Department.
The frequent occurrence of such tragedies raises questions about the adequacy of support for those in need. It defies imagination that a child in primary school would take his life by hanging himself, reportedly due to problems with school work. This may be an extreme case. But youngsters who do not know how to control emotions and lack support may opt for the wrong way out. Equally disturbing is the rising numbers of murder-suicides involving emotional or mentally unstable parents, who take the distorted view that they have the right to claim their children's life, or that death is for the child's good. Whatever the causes, they all point to a troubling conclusion - our society is unhealthy.
The need for better education and prevention is obvious. Some recommendations by the panel appear to be common sense, such as staying alert to children's emotions and avoid putting too much pressure on them. But sadly they are often put aside until tragedies happen. Now that there is a better idea of the problems and issues involved, the next step is to tackle them with a greater sense of urgency.