An internal investigation is under way into the conduct of a police sergeant who was called to handle a report of "assault" against a four-year-old boy in a busy shopping mall in a case which has sparked fresh questions over child protection laws in Hong Kong.
The Complaints Against Police Office has confirmed it is investigating an officer who was called to the incident in Ocean Terminal earlier this month.
Varying witness accounts say the boy was either slapped three to four times over a short period or he was slapped, kicked and choked for 10 to 15 minutes by a man - who police have confirmed is the boy's 34-year-old father - as his mother looked on.
Rajarshi Putatunda, a 28-year-old hedge-fund associate, who witnessed the incident at close quarters and called the police, said: "I'm not one of those people sensitive about giving a kid a smack, but this guy was just going at it. He was hitting the kid with a toy. Giving him repeated slaps, couple of kicks while [the boy] was on the floor.
"The kid was trying to defend himself in his own way, flailing his arms, trying to get away. He was crying, his face red, and a bruise on his arm from where he manhandled him," said Putatunda, who has lived and worked in Hong Kong for 15 years.
Nearby shop workers said they only witnessed the boy crying and being slapped.
Putatunda and his partner, Katalin Reman, gave statements detailing the extent of the physical force used against the boy. A police spokesman said the case had been classified as a "dispute" and there would be no criminal investigation. It is understood there were no CCTV cameras covering the area at the time.
Putatunda's complaint against the sergeant stems from what he alleges was the officer's attempt to play down the incident as merely an illustration of how "parents discipline their children in China".
University of Hong Kong associate professor Edward Chan Ko-ling, who has been researching child abuse in the city, said that, technically, even a slap would be considered common assault under Hong Kong law.
Chan, from the department of social work and social administration, said the law was clear in the case of teachers, childcare centres and prisons: Anyone found guilty of using corporal punishment against a child can be fined and imprisoned for up to one year for common assault, and three years for bruising and other "actual bodily harm". The message is not so clear when it comes to family members.
"We see a gap in consistency between paper and practice," said Chan. "It's up to the discretion of the police officer, but unless the violence is severe they're not likely to act," he added.
There are approximately 1.1 million children in Hong Kong. In 2012, Chan estimated 120,000 Hong Kong children were subject to some sort of child abuse.