Hong Kong police report surge in child abuse cases

Hong Kong police report surge in child abuse cases

Rise in sexual assaults linked to to minors spending more time outside

Police chief Raymond Siu at the launch of police’s children protection campaign in Hong Kong. (South China Morning Post photo)

HONG KONG: Child abuse cases in Hong Kong have risen an alarming 70% in the first eight months of the year, while the number of sexual assaults are also climbing as the pandemic levels off. Police said that about 30% of the 231 indecent assaults recorded over that period were committed in public places, an upwards trend linked to more children going outside following the gradual resumption of face-to-face classes. The Covid-19 crisis has also led to more young teenagers befriending people online, exposing a greater number of minors to predatory adults and making it harder for authorities to determine the real identities of culprits.

In one disturbing case, a 13-year-old girl ran away from home after meeting a 21-year-old man through an online platform. She was found at his residence after her family called police and he was arrested on  suspicion of having unlawful sexual intercourse.

“Children are the future pillars of society, we have the responsibility to protect them … It relies on the  cohesive work and effort from all members in Hong Kong,” Commissioner of Police Raymond Siu Chak-yee said at the launch of the force’s child protection scheme on Sunday.

He added there was a “sharp increase” in the number of child abuse cases between January and August against the backdrop of the pandemic, a 70% rise on the same period last year. Half of the total 780 cases of child abuse recorded in that eight-month period related to physical harm, up 71% from 2020, the police figures show. Eighty percent of the cases involved “ill-treatment or neglect by those in charge of a child or young person”. 

About three-quarters of the abusers were parents, with the rest made up of relatives, schoolmates, friends and others. “Facing financial or work-related stress and challenges in parenting is not easy … From our understanding, the parents often do not have the intention to harm their children,” said Superintendent Miki Wu Miu-yee of 

the crime wing support group. “But most of the time, they could not control their emotions and turned to a wrong and violent way to solve the problems.” Citing the case of a family living in a subdivided unit, she said the parents had relationship issues and  physically attacked each other during an argument.

The father also turned on his eight-year-old daughter.  Their neighbours reported the case to police after hearing the row. Police clinical psychologist Michael Fung Ho-kin pointed out that the community should not underestimate the seriousness of the issue, even with most cases only involving mild physical injury such as bruising and the majority of culprits being parents who are first-time offenders.

“It could be a slippery slope, in which the situation slowly intensifies. Especially in child abuse cases, it’s rare for the parents to pose great damage to the children for the first time. The violence may increase over time,” he explained, adding mild physical injury could also inflict mental harm on children.

The number of child abuse cases reported by schools, hospitals or the Social Welfare Department went up from 45.3% to 54% in the first half of the year, Wu noted. “This shows that different stakeholders have become more alert as the number of serious child abuse cases increases,” she said. A new criminal offence for “failing to protect a child” has been proposed to punish those – including family members, teachers and social workers – who did not take action to shield minors or other vulnerable people from death or serious harm.

The Law Reform Commission issued a report in September suggesting offenders could face up to 20 years behind bars if they failed to take “reasonable steps”, such as filing a police report, to protect the victim from abuse. Bernard Chan, chairman of Hong Kong Council of Social Service, noted many mental health and child abuse problems had arisen in line with the coronavirus hitting the city. “It’s not only a problem in Hong Kong, but also an issue happening across the globe,” said Chan, who is also the convenor of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s cabinet. “Apart from law enforcement, the authority should also focus on education and prevention.”

Police will launch a scheme from October to November to raise public awareness of child protection issues.

Siu said the scheme would engage its audience through social media, including a short video competition, as well as a colouring and slogan contest.

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