Hong Kong government must speed up reforms to child protection laws, says advocate

  • Lawmakers are debating a bill that would make failure to report suspected cases of child abuse a criminal offence
  • Clear guidelines should be set on what constitutes abuse, said the chairwoman of the Committee on Children’s Rights
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The government's proposed law would make failure to report child abuse a crime. Photo: SCMP / Dickson Lee

Hong Kong’s top children’s rights advocate has criticised the government’s slow efforts to reform child protection laws after a trial over the murder of a young girl that shocked the city.

Priscilla Lui Tsang Sun-kai, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Committee on Children’s Rights and member of the Commission on Children, said the city also needed to step up training for teachers, social workers and child protection authorities on how to identify and report suspected child abuse.

The government is deliberating a proposal to make the failure to report suspected cases a new criminal offence.

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“We need to have clear guidelines on what actions constitute child abuse,” Lui said in a television interview on Sunday. She said child abuse happens over a long period of time. “The child might show small wounds over a long period of time, but how come there are no adults to report such cases to authorities?”

Lui said government agencies need to work together to reduce red tape in reporting abuse.

The city’s failure to protect children from abuse has been in the spotlight by the recently concluded trial over a couple’s murder of their five-year-old daughter in 2018.

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Court testimony revealed that the girl’s kindergarten teacher had noticed something was wrong, four months before her death, while a school social worker had known that her brother was being assaulted at home. The social worker had sought advice from the Social Welfare Department, while also warning the parents that a police report would be made if the punishment did not stop.

The government’s new law proposal will be made public next month. It is expected to recommend that adults who fail to report any serious physical injury or psychological harm to a child in their care could face lengthy jail terms.

Lui said change the law was aimed at instilling a sense of responsibility and duty among adults to prevent child abuse.

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