Published: 20:39, November 20, 2023 | Updated: 12:48, November 21, 2023
More support needed to address increasing child abuse cases
By Xi Tianqi in Hong Kong

The Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers holds a news conference on Monday to present its suggestions for the Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse Bill. (XI TIANQI / CHINA DAILY)

Clearer guidelines, professional training for educators, and more manpower and resources should be available to better facilitate the expected implementation of the Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse Bill.

The Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers made the suggestions on Monday, as the group highlighted that the city’s number of child abuse cases was 60 percent higher in 2022 than it was in 2012.

Cases in the categories of physical injury and abuse, sexual assault and neglect have risen significantly during the period. In 858 out of the 1,515 cases last year, the abusers were parents

Police said 1,128 child abuse incidents were recorded in the first 10 months of this year alone, marking an 11.7 percentage-point increase over the same period last year.

READ MORE: Spiking number of child abuse cases is ticking time bomb in Hong Kong

To better protect children, the bill was gazetted on June 2, and lawmakers are still deliberating it. It requires social welfare practitioners, education and healthcare sectors to report suspicions of child abuse. Failure to comply can result in a maximum penalty of a HK$50,000 ($6,410) fine and three months’ imprisonment.

Hong Kong Chief Secretary Eric Chan Kwok-ki said on Saturday that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government will work for early passage of the bill and full implementation of a mandatory reporting mechanism for child abuse cases.

During a Monday news conference introducing the group’s suggestions for the bill, the federation said that the number of child abuse cases in the city rose from 901 in 2012 to 1,439 in 2022.

Cases in the categories of physical injury and abuse, sexual assault and neglect have risen significantly during the period. In 858 out of the 1,515 cases last year, the abusers were parents.

The federation suggested that the government provide clear guidelines to help front-line educators understand what constitutes “child abuse”, the “exemption reporting mechanism”, and the “reasonable reporting threshold” in the bill.

The federation recommends that society take a page from overseas countries like Australia to establish a comprehensive and independent system on child abuse reporting. This would include using clear terms in the guidelines to assist teachers in identifying child abuse risks without overreporting.

The organization also called for specialized training programs for education professionals to enhance their skills in recognizing, handling and following such cases to better assist in the implementation of the bill.

For the long term, the federation proposes further promoting positive education in schools and considering including it as a compulsory subject

Federation Vice-Chairman Chu Kwok-keung, who is also the lawmaker representing the education sector, warned of a potential surge in reported cases once the bill is enacted. Chu stressed that this would necessitate additional resources, including the provision of appropriate accommodation like Small Group Homes for affected children.

The Small Group Homes government program provides out-of-home care for children aged 4 to 18 who are in need of residential care owing to improper care arising from family problems.

He called on the government to proactively increase the number of dedicated officers responsible for investigating child abuse cases, and to reinforce the Social Welfare Department’s workforce to adequately address the anticipated increase in case numbers.\

READ MORE: Child cruelty: Higher penalties necessary to protect the most vulnerable

Expressing concerns that different departments may evade responsibilities and pass such duties to each other, the federation also calls for improved coordination between related agencies such as the Social Welfare Department and the police.

For the long term, the federation proposes further promoting positive education in schools and considering including it as a compulsory subject. It also calls for enhanced parental education and support on childcare services to alleviate their pressures.

The federation also hopes to require parents, especially those involved in child abuse cases, to participate in lectures and courses, including positive education, mental health education, and the method of being alone with children, to promote healthy parent-child relationships.