A legislator's sweeping policy suggestions seek to expand the definition to cover the abuse of the elderly and siblings A legislator is seeking sweeping reforms of domestic violence laws to make them cover household abuse beyond that involving couples and their children. Abuse of the elderly and between siblings should also be covered, said Law Chi-kwong, the legislator representing the social welfare sector. He said he soon would hand his proposal to welfare officials and work to mobilise non-government welfare groups to seek the extension of protection under the Domestic Violence Ordinance to include all kinds of family violence. 'The focus of the law at present is too narrow. It does not cover the abuse of elderly people, nor does it cover cases like [a] brother assaulting his sister,' Dr Law said. He said the ordinance should be widened to cover everyone within a domestic relationship and all kinds of abuses, including psychological. 'The purpose of having such a law is not to penalise but to offer more help to the family. We need a law to allow the police to protect the victims. We need the legal arrangement for the government to intervene,' Dr Law said. In addition to the policy proposal, entitled 'Family Violence - Zero Tolerance', the Democrat legislator, who is an associate professor at Hong Kong University's department of social work and social administration, aims to work out specific draft legal recommendations by mid-2004. At present, the Domestic Violence Ordinance applies only to parents and children under 18 in the 'matrimonial home' and allows the court to grant an injunction against the perpetrators only if it is satisfied that the victim suffers 'actual bodily harm'. According to the Social Welfare Department, there were 3,034 new cases of battered spouses last year, compared with 1,009 in 1998. There were 520 new cases of child abuse last year, up 27 per cent from 1998. Last year, 14 children under 15 were killed by a parent who committed suicide soon after. In the first six months this year, five children aged under 12 were murdered as a result of a family dispute. But rather than putting perpetrators in jail, Dr Law said the law should also be amended to allow the court an option to order abusers to receive compulsory counselling to alter their abusive behaviour. The legislator also believes the government should review past cases of serious family violence, such as those involving the killing of children, because some of those involved had been known to have sought help but the system had failed them. 'Such a review is not aimed to find out who is the murderer but to see what improvements could be made. No system is perfect but we have to find ways to plug the loopholes,' Dr Law said. He also proposes replacing the current system of dealing with custody disputes to allow 'shared custody', which allows both parents to have rights and responsibilities to care for their offspring.