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Never too early to teach Hong Kong’s children how to protect themselves from abuse, Plan International boss says

Rasa Sekulovic, the NGO’s head in Asia, believes the earlier the conversation, the better equipped children will be to deal with any threat

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 September, 2018, 8:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 September, 2018, 8:00am

Children should be taught at an early age how to protect themselves from being abused, a child rights expert has said.

Rasa Sekulovic, the regional head of child protection and partnerships at Plan International, said the first step in preventing child abuse was for parents and teachers to talk openly with children about the risk of violence, or psychological abuse.

According to the latest figures from the Social Welfare Department, child abuse cases in Hong Kong rose 6.2 per cent to 947 last year. Of those cases, 40 per cent involved physical injury, and 59 per cent of abusers were parents.

The head of the NGO in Asia, Sekulovic also said parents should stop beating their children as a punishment, and Hong Kong should follow Nepal’s lead and have children involved in the city’s policymaking process.

“As parents, or whoever is taking primary care of children, we cannot be with them all the time,” Sekulovic said, during an interview with the Post.

Gradually we can introduce the concept that violence is not acceptable
Rasa Sekulovic, Plan International

“Just like we’d teach children not to touch fire, electric sockets or poisonous things, gradually we can introduce the concept that violence is not acceptable.

“Children should know, no one should yell at you, no one should touch you where you’re not supposed to be touched, and you deserve all the care.”

The level of child abuse in the city is at its highest since 2013, with most abused children either infants below the age of two, and children aged between 12 and 14.

According to Sekulovic, historically, children in Hong Kong, as in the rest of the world, are often abused by people in positions of trust, which often makes victims hesitant to report what is happening.

While he did not identify a specific age to start anti-abuse education, Sekulovic said the earlier children were taught to protect themselves, the earlier they would be encouraged to identify the kind of abuse and ask for help.

Abuse of children younger than 3 years old soars in Hong Kong

In the long term, this would also help break the vicious circle in which child abuse victims subsequently become violent parents themselves.

He said parents should stop beating their children as a punishment, as resorting to violence only instilled fear in children.

“When the parents are away, they [children] will do [the misbehaviour] again,” he said. “That doesn’t help children grow up to become responsible and caring adults.”

Sekulovic believes the creation of Hong Kong’s first Children’s Commission this year presents an opportunity for younger members of society to play a bigger role in matters concerning them the most.

One of the key steps could be ensuring legislation or policies concerning children first goes through consultation with them.

While it remains a progressive idea for Hong Kong, the Plan International chief pointed to children in Nepal, who have been consulted in the process of drafting new legislations for several years.

“Drafted law could be translated in a child-friendly way so children could provide their input, then communicate it to the lawmakers,” Sekulovic said.

Other areas children could give feedback in, include public services such as transport, or services intended to help children with disabilities.

Hong Kong children cry out for law to battle abuse

Chaired by Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, the commission comprising officials from various bureaus and activists for child rights was criticised for not being an independent body which monitored the government’s policies targeted at children.

During the first meeting in June, the government was pressed on a timetable for the commission to become a statutory body, independent from the government. However, sources said the government was non-committal on this, and on a separate proposal to set up a subcommittee to study what the commission would need to become an independent body.

Sekulovic said it was important for the commission to be independent, to truly help the government improve child-related policies.

“It’s not a shame to have a problem, every place has it,” he said. “But it would be a shame to hide it, and the problem will not disappear, but will only come back and bite.”