My Take

Child abuse: don't blame the system, teachers should have acted

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 September, 2015, 1:26am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 September, 2015, 1:30am

The case of a malnourished girl with gangrene and skin ulcers all over her body has shocked Hong Kong. Predictably, the news media point fingers at "the system" for failing to spot the abuse earlier. I beg to differ.

While there is certainly large room for improvement when it comes to children's welfare in Hong Kong, the harm and suffering inflicted on the seven-year-old by her family most likely could have been stopped if her kindergarten teachers had been more alert and responsible.

The girl had been in a coma and was in intensive care since the middle of July. She is now in a stable condition but still cannot feed herself. She first came to Hong Kong from the mainland last November. She was enrolled in a kindergarten despite being of an older age. In April, teachers noticed injuries on her body and asked her parents about it. She was immediately withdrawn from the school and that was, apparently, the end of the matter as far as the teachers were concerned. Out of sight, out of mind.

It appears that the abuse continued and perhaps intensified until July when her mother took her to hospital claiming she had slipped in the bath. She was in a coma and was immediately taken into intensive care. Doctors became suspicious because of the extensive injuries and informed the Social Welfare Department. It was only then that the alleged abuse came to light. Police stepped in and arrested the parents and two older sisters. As a seven-year-old, she weighs just 15 kg. She is now effectively a ward of the state.

Did the system fail her? Welfare department workers did visit her home once but she wasn't in at the time. But the alleged abuse could have been stopped when her teachers noticed her injuries and her subsequent withdrawal from the school. They should have realised something was not right and called the police and/or the welfare department. That could have stopped the abuse in its tracks. Police in recent years have been better trained to deal with domestic violence, including abuse against children. Alas, our kindergarten teachers are often poorly paid and insufficiently trained.

Besides stepping up their training, it may be time to make it mandatory for teachers to report such cases.