Tougher abuse laws urged to stem rise in home-alone cases

Fox Yi Hu

A weakening of family ties has led to a rise in cases of home-alone children, along with other types of child abuse and negligence, children's rights advocates say.

In light of recent incidents involving children left at home alone, they are calling for a revision of childcare policies and effective laws against abandoning children.

'It is worrying that all kinds of child abuse have been on the rise in recent years,' said Priscilla Lui Tsang Sun-kai, director of Against Child Abuse.

Two children left alone at home suffered serious burns in a fire inside a locked flat in Tuen Mun on August 26. A 24-day-old baby boy was bitten by rats after being left alone in a tin hut in Sha Tin on August 31.

Ms Lui pointed to 'weakening family bonds' as a main factor behind the worrying trend. 'Perhaps the widening wealth gap has also caused more abuses,' she said.

But she said the public had a high level of tolerance for child abuse, resulting in such cases being severely under-reported. 'For every reported case, there may be 99 unreported ones,' she said.

The group yesterday launched an awareness campaign in Tuen Mun, where several shocking cases of child abuse emerged recently. Led by social workers, children wearing signs reading 'Don't leave me home' walked around the town centre to raise awareness of the issue.

Tuen Mun resident Chan Suk-fan said her eight-year-old daughter was once left home alone while under the care of the girl's grandmother, but she would never let it happen again.

'I was quite scared about leaving her alone. Even a few moments' negligence may cause accidents,' she said.

Ms Lui said the government should provide greater financial support to mutual-help childcare centres, which could provide flexible services. The centres are operated within the community, where one family helps look after the children of another family.

Legislator Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, who joined the awareness campaign, called for more definitive legislation against leaving children home alone.

Mr Cheung also urged the government to review recent home-alone cases involving severe injuries as well as deaths.

'The government has pledged to review cases involving deaths, but those involving severe injuries must also be covered,' he said.