One in three children in Hong Kong have been physically abused by their parents in the last 12 months, with 15 per cent saying they had suffered repeated violent beatings or assaults, including being burned or cut, according to a new study that has shocked academics.
Researchers interviewed 542 children aged eight to 13, as well as 461 mothers and 517 fathers. All were asked the same set of questions, including if parents had slapped their children on the palms, arms or buttocks - categorised as minor punishments - or had beaten them with a belt, a stick or other hard objects - categorised as physical maltreatment or abuse.
Some 63 per cent of children said they had been struck in the 12 months prior to the interview. About half that number - 31.1 per cent of the children interviewed - described punishments that were categorised as physical abuse by the study.
About half of that number again - 14.5 per cent of all the children interviewed - were considered to have been severely abused. Researchers considered severe abuse to be repeated and violent beatings, deliberate burning or cutting using sharp objects.
The study was commissioned by Caritas Youth and Community Service (CYCS), a youth outreach organisation run by the Catholic charity Caritas.
The interviews were carried out between September last year and January. The subjects were chosen from six government-funded primary schools with connections to Caritas.
Dr Sylvia Kwok Lai Yuk-ching, associate professor of applied social studies at City University and the study's lead researcher, said: "I was shocked by the results. I didn't expect that the percentage of children reporting abuse would be so high."
Six in 10 children also said they had been subjected to psychological abuse, such as yelling or being called names such as "stupid" or "slob".
Kwok said the use of violent measures by parents could be related to increased social pressures and parents' high expectations for their children.
"Some parents may not know how to control their emotions and frustrations under stress and they vent it through their children," she said.
The frequency of physical assaults as reported by the children averaged out at twice a month, while those who reported severe abuse said it occurred about once a month.
While 64 per cent of mothers and 54 per cent of fathers admitted using physical violence, parents tended to characterise the punishment as less severe than their children did.
Kwok said parents may think it is normal to use physical punishment to discipline children and may not believe that using hard objects to beat children was abuse.