Hong Kong children cry out for law to battle abuse
A shocking rise in the number of cases and an outcry over sentences considered too lenient for brutal parents are fuelling calls for action
It says something about our society when child abuse continues to make the headlines. Not only does such behaviour hurt the well-being of victims, but also the future of society. Following the recent public outcry over sentences considered too lenient for parents convicted in two shocking cases, the spotlight has turned to the disturbing rise in abuse reported last year. Pressure for an overhaul of child protection procedures is growing. According to a Social Welfare Department report, the number of child abuse cases rose 6.2 per cent to 947 last year, the highest since 2013. About 40 per cent involved physical injuries. Sexual abuse and neglect accounted for 33 and 24 per cent of the total, respectively. About 59 per cent of the abusers were parents. Of particular concern was the sharp rise in cases involving those aged two or under, up from 92 in 2015 to 222.
Experts believed the increase was partly attributed to growing public awareness but, with more than two abuse reports a day across the city, the situation is hardly comforting. The figures may well be just the tip of the iceberg, as neighbours and relatives may still be reluctant to report what is considered to be the affairs of others.
The rising trend has put pressure on the government, which pledged to improve the development of youngsters by setting up a Commission on Children. It also makes a mockery of the safeguards put in place over the years. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has been in force in Hong Kong for nearly a quarter of a century and, while there are no fewer than 10 ordinances related to child protection, there is no single law against child abuse. The maximum sentence for such abuse is 10 years in jail, and this was deemed insufficient by a judge who earlier convicted a mother of mistreating her daughter. Last week, a 26-year-old father was jailed for just six years and three months for slapping and shaking his newborn daughter, who was left blind and dependent on life support.
The establishment of the commission is a timely opportunity to review the supporting measures for families as well as the feasibility of a more focused law against child abuse. The public looks forward to news about further commitment on this front rather than more children being abused.