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Published: 01:35, July 26, 2023 | Updated: 10:30, July 26, 2023
Spiking number of child abuse cases is ticking time bomb in Hong Kong
By Lau Kin-shing
Published:01:35, July 26, 2023 Updated:10:30, July 26, 2023 By Lau Kin-shing

In recent years, Hong Kong witnessed a surge in cases of child abuse, with a record 1,439 registered cases (also known as child protection cases) in 2022. It is concerning that many of the perpetrators are family members of the victims. However, there has been an increase in incidents in which teachers or staff members in schools or dormitories have been implicated in harming children. This trend warrants attention and further investigation. 

Child abuse is a distressing and pervasive issue that affects the well-being of children worldwide. This commentary aims to explore the underlying reasons for the occurrence of child abuse incidents in Hong Kong from a psychological professional’s point of view. Additionally, it will shed light on the psychological impact on the victims and propose suggestions for improvements in addressing this pressing issue.

The occurrence of child abuse cannot be attributed to a single factor but is influenced by a complex interplay of sociocultural dynamics. In Hong Kong, the high-stress and competitive environment, coupled with long working hours, places a significant burden on families. This pressure can contribute to the breakdown of support systems and result in parental frustration, leading to abusive behavior. Additionally, cultural factors, such as the emphasis on discipline and “authoritarian” parenting styles, can contribute to the perpetuation of abusive behavior.

Family dynamics play a crucial role in child abuse incidents. Dysfunctional family structures, marital conflicts, and inadequate parenting skills can create an environment prone to abuse. Substance abuse, mental health issues, and a history of trauma within the family can exacerbate the risk of child abuse. Parental stress, particularly during economic hardship or unemployment, can increase the likelihood of abusive behavior as caregivers struggle to cope with their own emotional distress.

Child abuse has severe and long-lasting psychological consequences for the victims. Physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and emotional abuse can lead to a range of mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety disorders and difficulties forming relationships. These adverse experiences can affect children’s cognitive development, emotional regulation, self-esteem, and interpersonal relationships. The impact often extends into adulthood, perpetuating a cycle of violence and abuse.

Once the legislation comes into effect, it is expected that there will be a significant increase in the number of reported cases of child abuse. The government will need to increase the capacity of child accommodation and care services and provide emergency placements. Additionally, it needs to enhance public education and awareness campaigns to promote societal consciousness regarding child protection

Addressing child abuse requires a multifaceted approach, encompassing preventive measures, intervention strategies and support services. Raising public awareness about child abuse is crucial to combating this issue. Implementing comprehensive educational campaigns targeting parents, caregivers, teachers and community members can help promote healthy parenting practices, recognize signs of abuse, and encourage reporting. Schools should incorporate age-appropriate curricula that educate children about their rights, personal safety and healthy boundaries. Enhancing social support systems is essential in preventing child abuse. Investing in accessible and affordable mental health services can provide parents with the necessary resources to address their emotional well-being and cope with stressors. Community-based programs that offer parenting classes, counseling, and support groups can help foster healthy family relationships and strengthen parenting skills. Establishing effective protocols for identifying and reporting child abuse is paramount. 

Training professionals working with children, such as teachers, healthcare providers and social workers, to recognize signs of abuse and respond appropriately can facilitate early intervention. Creating safe spaces within schools and healthcare settings where children can disclose abuse confidentially is crucial to breaking the cycle of silence. Reviewing and enhancing existing child protection laws can ensure a comprehensive legal framework that adequately addresses the complexity of child abuse cases. This includes defining abuse more broadly to encompass emotional and psychological abuse, establishing clear reporting procedures, and implementing stricter penalties for offenders. Collaboration between law enforcement agencies, social services and the legal system is vital to ensuring effective implementation. Developing trauma-informed services that prioritize the psychological well-being of child abuse victims is essential. This involves training professionals in trauma-informed practices, providing specialized counseling for victims and their families, and creating safe and supportive environments for recovery. Foster care systems should also be strengthened to ensure that abused children receive appropriate care and protection.

The Legislative Council recently conducted the first and second readings of the Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse Bill. I express my strong support for this significant initiative aimed at protecting children from abuse and harm. I appreciate the views expressed by government officials during the second reading.

The core of this bill is the establishment of a mandatory reporting mechanism to detect and intervene in potential child abuse cases at an early stage. Professionals, including those from the fields of social welfare, education and healthcare, will become mandatory reporters. If they have reasonable grounds to suspect serious harm to a child or are faced with an actual risk of serious harm, they must report it immediately. Such provisions will ensure that professionals can play a crucial role in providing comprehensive protection and serve as a deterrent to abusers.

The government emphasizes that the bill will provide statutory defenses and legal safeguards for mandatory reporters. Training will be provided to them, and practical guidelines will be prepared to assist in early identification, reporting and intervention in cases of child abuse, while reducing false reports.

Once the legislation comes into effect, it is expected that there will be a significant increase in the number of reported cases of child abuse. The government will need to increase the capacity of child accommodation and care services and provide emergency placements. Additionally, it needs to enhance public education and awareness campaigns to promote societal consciousness regarding child protection. Furthermore, the government needs to review and strengthen existing prevention and support measures to ensure the effectiveness of this ordinance.

Protecting children is a collective responsibility of our society, and this bill represents an important step forward in ensuring their safety and well-being. Let us join forces and support this initiative to provide every child with a safe, healthy and happy environment to grow in.

The author is vice-president of the Hong Kong Psychological, Counselling and Consultation Society, an international certified hypnotherapist instructor, and a senior Chinese psychological counselor and course instructor.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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