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Teachers free to judge whether to call police before parents when child abuse suspected, Hong Kong welfare minister says

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong says principals and school management committees ‘misunderstand’ guidelines on reporting abuse

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 January, 2018, 8:02pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 January, 2018, 10:47pm

Hong Kong’s welfare minister on Sunday sought to clarify how schools should report suspected cases of child abuse, following concerns expressed by educators about notifying parents before police.

Teachers and social workers were worried that an official reporting mechanism could prove fruitless if they were required to inform the child’s parents before social services or police. They said it could affect how cases were handled.

But writing his weekly blog on Sunday, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said principals and school management committees had “misunderstood” government-issued guidelines for reporting suspected cases.

“In fact, schools and social workers who have suspected child abuse cases may report them to the police or the Social Protection for Families and Children’s Services Division for follow-up without the consent of the parents,” Law said.

“They may also bring children to the hospital for inspection.”

Law added that while it would be better to speak to parents first, ultimately it would be left to teachers and social workers to make the “appropriate judgment” about whether to contact them.

In cases involving suspected sexual assault, Law recommended school authorities and social workers report the incident to the Social Welfare Department or police immediately.

Kindergarten and primary schoolteachers in Hong Kong to get training to deal with child abuse cases

Calls came to strengthen procedures for reporting suspected child abuse in the wake of the death of five-year-old Chan Sui-lam on January 6. Her father, 26, a transport worker, and stepmother, 27, were charged with murder on January 8.

Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung announced on January 16 that kindergartens and primary school teachers would receive training on how to deal with child abuse cases.

In 2016, 892 cases were reported to the government’s Child Protection Registry, compared with 874 in 2015 and 856 in 2014.

Hong Kong welfare minister pledges action on child abuse after shocking death of girl, 5

In more than half of these cases the abusers were the parents, but other common perpetrators included friends of the family and other unrelated people.

Between January and September last year, 704 cases – an average of 78 a month – were flagged to the authority, more than the monthly average of between 71 and 74 in the three preceding years. The registry’s figures date back to 2005. The highest number of cases reported was in 2010, with 1,001.