Society has long since ceased to be shocked by the relentless toll of suicides driven by illness and emotional or financial stress. But the crime of murder-suicide is a different matter and when the victims include children - it never ceases to shock. A report on murder-suicide in Hong Kong is cause for concern and calls for further study. A review of the government's support services to families in crisis would be timely. Compared with the results of similar studies in most other countries, we have a much higher percentage of murder-suicide killings of children by parents who take the distorted view that it is for their children's good. Researchers in the field call these 'altruistic' killings. It is not uncommon to find financial stress among the likely contributing factors. Study author Philip Beh Swan-lip concedes that we do not know enough about these killings. What we know is that the reasoning behind them is irrational. The underlying causes need to be recognised and addressed sooner. '[The parents] are over-loving,' Dr Beh says. 'They think: 'If I can't give everything for my child, no one else can do better'.' The Department of Social Welfare commissioned the study after 14 murder-suicides in 2002. It is to be commended for initiatives already taken to improve crisis intervention services to help families in crisis. But the continued incidence of domestic tragedies has done nothing to calm growing concern about the plight of families and is bound to spark calls for action. The Centre for Criminology at Hong Kong University studied 73 cases between 1989 and 2001, resulting in 228 deaths. The number of cases rose to 96 by the end of last year. Low socioeconomic status and/or financial worries were found in 43.7 per cent of cases where parents killed children, and 85.7 per cent of cases where whole families were killed. Early this year the government acknowledged that economic disadvantage is a serious community problem by establishing the Poverty Commission. The commission cannot be expected to produce quick-fix solutions. But further evidence of the link between poverty and family tragedy is a reminder that it has the opportunity to make a real difference. Perhaps the link with economic difficulties has something to do with Hong Kong's overtly capitalist way of life. There is an echo of this in a feeling among community groups that the government is not sensitive enough to the urgent plight of families at risk, and the need to ease the burden on social workers and provide them with more training. But if social workers have to handle 100 cases at any one time, as claimed by a union leader, allowing as little as 30 minutes' counselling time per visit, it is difficult to see how they could adequately address the complex issues involved. Social-welfare case workers interviewed for the HKU study said they found it difficult to detect depression or suicidal intentions and that resources for children with special needs were limited. This is an edited version of an article printed in the South China Morning Post on August 2, 2005. Activity Task 1: Discussion 1. What are the factors leading to a family tragedy? 2. Comment on recent family tragedies, highlighted by last year's Tin Shui Wai killings of a mother and her two daughter. Are there similar incidents in other countries? 3. In groups of two, discuss why family violence has come into the spotlight recently and the possible reasons behind these family tragedies. 4. Were the measures taken by the government effective? Task 2: Writing Write an article of about 300 words for your school magazine and give it a title. The purpose of the article is to raise awareness of the Tin Shui Wai killing and other cases in Hong Kong. Consider the views of all parties involved and make suggestions to help distressed families.