Hong Kong will forge ahead with plans to implement a mandatory reporting mechanism for suspected cases of child abuse, following the death of a five-year-old last Saturday who was found covered in wounds.
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Chris Sun chaired a virtual meeting with representatives from the social welfare sector on Tuesday to discuss the proposal. The exchange covered details such as penalties and how to protect the rights of those who file a report.
The group will continue its consultations with stakeholders this month.
“[We] will further study the views collected and report the results of the consultation to the Legislative Council’s Panel on Welfare Services, and introduce a bill to the Legislative Council as soon as possible,” Sun wrote.
The suggestion for Hong Kong to make it mandatory for people to report cases of child abuse was raised by the Ombudsman, the watchdog for the government, in 2019.
“It would help to address the problem [of child abuse] if professionals who have frequent contact with children, including school teachers and social workers, can pay attention to their condition, thereby promptly identifying abuse cases and taking action to intervene,” the Ombudsman wrote in a report.
According to statistics released by the Social Welfare Department, there were 1,367 newly registered cases of child abuse in 2021, up from 940 the year before.
A Legislative Council paper published in 2020 said the existing system of voluntary reporting means that victims’ family members and “relevant professionals,” such as doctors and teachers, do not have a “statutory duty to report suspected abuse cases,” which hinders identification and intervention.
Children’s rights groups have expressed support for a mandatory mechanism. Former education secretary Kevin Yeung, however, said last year it was unfair to place the “sole responsibility” of identifying potential child abuse on teachers.
Sham Shui Po murder
Speaking ahead of a meeting with the Executive Council on Tuesday morning, Chief Executive John Lee said he was “concerned and sad” about the death of the five-year-old boy.
“This case shows exactly that we must take forward our legislative work on the mandatory reporting requirement for suspected child abuse cases. We must complete the consultation and legislative exercise as soon as possible,” Lee said.
Officers received a report from a woman last Saturday that a boy was unconscious in their Sham Shui Po subdivided flat. The boy was found with multiple cuts and bruises on his body, and he was suspected of being malnourished.
The boy was certified dead after being rushed to Kwong Wah Hospital.
The boy’s mother was arrested on suspicion of murder. A 40-year-old woman was arrested the following day for alleged child neglect.
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