A Hong Kong concern group has identified 200 suspected child abuse cases from April 2020 to March 2021, involving 248 children aged six to 14, up 40 per cent compared to the same period last year.
The group, Against Child Abuse, said this week the number of cases rose as in-person classes resumed in schools. From the 1,264 hotline calls the group received in the 2020-21 financial year, it identified 200 suspected child abuse cases.
Of the 200 cases, 43 were children aged three to five, while 49 were aged between six and eight.
Donna Wong Chui-ling, director of Against Child Abuse, said children from these two age groups faced immense academic pressure as they advanced from kindergarten to primary schools, and from primary schools to secondary schools.
Nearly 80 per cent of suspected abusers were family members, including mothers, fathers and caregivers.
“The city’s education system is highly competitive. Both parents and children may feel stressed even at the kindergarten stage,” Wong said.
“Parents face pressure to choose schools for their children, and they are worried that the academic performance of their children will not meet the school requirements, which will lead to excessive expectations for their children and an increase in parent-child conflicts.”
Wong said the rising number of reports related to child abuse could be connected to the coronavirus pandemic, which had caused schools to close for most of last year, forcing children and their parents to spend more time at home together. During this period, children had more time to be exposed to online games, which had intensified parent-child conflicts, she said.
Wong believed that many child abuse cases had gone unnoticed during school closures.
Of the 200 child abuse cases, the NGO said, 96 involved physical violence, followed by 33 cases of sexual abuse.
The other cases included negligence and psychological abuse.
Wong said corporal punishment is a type of physical abuse which is often mistakenly seen as a way that can help change children’s behaviour.
“Physical punishment adversely affects their brain development and emotions ... It not only alienates parent-child relationships, children also learn to resolve problems by violence,” she said.
She said corporal punishment is serious enough to cause injury or even death of children.
“It violates children’s rights and is a form of violence that should be totally banned”, including at home, she added.
Wong called on the authorities to review the maximum penalty for people convicted of ill-treatment or neglect of children, which is currently 10 years in jail.
Due to an increase in underage sex abusers, Wong called for the introduction of a comprehensive sex education programme in schools.
She also said sex education materials that have been used in schools since 1997 should be updated to meet the current social trends.