A 56-year-old former childcare worker was sentenced to five months and eight weeks in jail on Friday after she pleaded guilty to abusing three children last year.
Lam Mei-po, an ex-employee of Children’s Residential Home, appeared in front of Acting Principal Magistrate Peony Wong at the Kowloon City Magistrates’ Courts on Friday. Lam was the second defendant to receive a jail sentence among the more than 30 people charged over a child abuse scandal at the Mong Kok care home.
The 56-year-old has been remanded into custody since she pleaded guilty to three counts of “Ill-treatment or neglect by those in charge of child or young person” two weeks ago.
Surveillance footage from the care home showed that Lam attacked three children, which included a two-year-old girl “S” and a three-year-old girl “AC,” on December 10 last year, the prosecution said.
According to the prosecution, Lam was distributing water bottles to S and 10 other children sitting on a mat, during which the defendant hit S’s chest forcefully after S pushed Lam’s hand. S fell to the ground and cried.
Around a minute later, AC opened a water bottle and looked inside while the defendant was wiping the floor, Lam pushed the bottle towards the three-year-old’s face, and continued to do so after AC turned away.
Lam pushed AC’s feet once when the 56-year-old was wiping water off the floor, and pushed the bottle so that it hit AC’s mouth then the girl was drinking water again. Lam also pointed a finger towards the child.
On the evening of the same day, Lam want to a room with around 20 children sleeping, and saw that the leg of an unidentified child was moving. Lam stepped on the child’s lower body forcefully with her right leg.
Lam’s lawyer said during mitigation two weeks ago that the defendant deeply regretted what she did, and said it was not intentional. The lawyer also said that Lam did not use much force and the children did not suffer serious wounds, and she even continued to take care of S and AC after attacking them.
On Friday, Lam’s lawyer submitted a letter written by the defendant while she was on remand. Lam wrote that she will never do childcare work again, and that she intends to do voluntary work on environmental protection.
The defence also said that Lam’s background report was positive, and that the first two incidents took place as the defendant only wanted the children to finish drinking water within the 30-minute time limit.
Handing down the reason for sentencing, the magistrate said that she rejected the defendant’s claim that she did not know how much force she was using when she hit S.
The magistrate also rejected the defendant’s claim that the floor was covered by a soft mat, and said that it was “pure luck” that S did not hit her head on the hard surface.
S’s behaviour was common for children of her age, the magistrate said, and the toddler’s actions could not justify the defendant’s action.
As for the second incident, the magistrate said that AC did not do anything to provoke Lam, and ruled that the defendant “had a meltdown” and “vented her emotions onto AC.”
Lam’s actions were “an outrage,” the magistrate said, adding that descriptions of the behaviour towards AC as abuse were “not an exaggeration.”
While the defendant said that, in the third incident, she was trying to stop the child from swinging their legs on the bed as it was dangerous, the magistrate refused to accept Lam’s explanation.
Wong also rejected Lam’s claim that she only stepped on the child as the 56-year-old suffered from lower back pain, and said that the video showed that she bent over to arrange the bedding for other children in the room.
The magistrate said that, if it was not for the video, she would not believe that what Lam did could be the actions of “a professional child care worker in a civilised world.”
Applying a one third deduction for pleading guilty, Wong eventually sentenced Lam to two months in prison for the incident with S, four months for the incident with AC, and 14 weeks for the third incident.
Ruling that some of Lam’s sentences could be served concurrently, the magistrate handed down a five-month-and-eight-week jail term.
Lam was the second defendant in the scandal to plead guilty. Barbara Heung, who admitted guilt last month to abusing a toddler on two occasions, was sentenced to four months in prison.
Support press freedom & help us surpass 1,000 monthly Patrons: 100% independent, governed by an ethics code & not-for-profit, Hong Kong Free Press is #PressingOn with impartial, award-winning, frontline coverage.