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Crime in Hong Kong

Child abuse has no place in our society

Child abuse is a grave matter and, given the death of a five-year-old girl, the authorities must learn from the systemic failure that led to such a tragedy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 January, 2018, 1:46am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 January, 2018, 2:18am

Hong Kong is in shock as yet another horrific case of child abuse has come to light. This time, a five-year old girl died after what is suspected to be long-running physical abuse at home. Her eight-year-old brother also suffered from malnutrition and multiple injuries. The father and the stepmother have been charged with murder.

Since then, at least four other suspected abuse cases have been reported. The murder case shall be a matter for the courts to decide. Meanwhile, some broader issues warrant closer attention. There appear to be gaps in the existing mechanism of detection and support.

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In the alleged murder case, a court heard that the siblings were subject to physical abuse on an almost daily basis.Why, then, would the kindergarten the girl attended have failed to notice? Was it not suspicious when the family stopped sending the girl to school for a while and eventually withdrew her altogether, saying she was to be given home schooling instead?

The brother’s situation is no less disturbing. His primary school did notice bruises on the boy and claimed to have immediately referred the case to the government for follow-up action. But the Social Welfare Department denied handling the case. It turned out that the school had just phoned the department.

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A social work staff union later sought to dispel the perception that the matter had been swept aside by the department, saying the case might only have been treated as seeking views from the government. Referral takes further procedures.

The outcome could have been different had the various parties been more vigilant. Teachers and schools are supposed to be the first line of defence against domestic child abuse, backed up by professionals and authorities with the know-how and resources to handle such matters. In this tragic case, there appear to have been multiple failures in our surveillance system, and the buck-passing will do nothing to protect the vulnerable.

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Belatedly but rightly, the labour and welfare chief has pledged to see whether support and communication can be strengthened. It is in the public interest for all parties to learn from such cases and try to prevent tragedies from happening again.