A former childcare employee has been jailed for 15 months in Hong Kong after she was convicted of physically abusing a group of young children. Her sentence was the heaviest so far in a series of cases linked to a scandal at the Children’s Residential Home in Mong Kok.

Lee Wai-man, 24, was sentenced at the Kowloon City Magistrates’ Courts on Friday, after she denied nine counts of ill-treatment or neglect by those in charge of child or young person, local media reported.

Hong Kong Society for the Protection of Children. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Lee’s offences were said to have taken place in November and December last year, when she wilfully assaulted, ill-treated, neglected and abandoned children aged between one and two at the foster home run by the Hong Kong Society for Protection of Children. She also exposed them to unnecessary suffering, according to local media.

When meting out the prison term, Magistrate Andrew Mok criticised Lee’s use of force on children. He described her behaviour as “despicable,” pointing to the young ages of the victims who had been abandoned by their parents or had other family issues, according to media reports.

The magistrate rejected the defendant’s argument that she hit the victims lightly on their face or head because they did not understand verbal instructions. Those body parts were prone to injuries, the court said.

Mok also called Lee an “unreliable witness,” saying her testimony was “very different” from what was captured on security camera footage. The arguments she gave were attempts to “whitewash” her behaviour, he said.

Andrew Mok Tsz-chung. Photo: Judiciary.

“Her account was not the truth, and there was no chance it was the truth,” The Witness reported Mok as saying.

Lee was eventually jailed one year and three months after the court rejected the defence’s plea for a lenient sentence.

A total of 34 former staff members of the Children’s Residential Home have so far been prosecuted for alleged abuse. Lee was the first ex-childcare employee found guilty and imprisoned after trial.

The scandal of alleged abuse at the foster home came to light in December last year after police received reports that some children had been abused by staff at an outdoor playground at the residential home.

After multiple rounds of arrests, at least 39 toddlers and young children were found to have been allegedly assaulted. The suspected mistreatment included  “head-hitting, hair-pulling, slapping, tossing the children onto the ground and towards the wall.”

Support HKFP  |  Code of Ethics  |  Error/typo?  |  Contact Us  |  Newsletter  | Transparency & Annual Report

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.

Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.