A crisis centre has again urged the government to lower the age threshold for suspected child abuse victims whose cases would be subject to a new, mandatory reporting mechanism for professionals. It said that knowledge of the requirements may lead to young victims feeling discouraged from speaking up.

Under a proposed bill, practitioners in the social welfare, education and healthcare sectors risk three months’ imprisonment and a fine of HK$50,000 if they fail to report suspected cases of child abuse “as soon as possible.”

Survivors of child sexual abuse supported by RainLily. File Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

The proposed legislation – set to arrive at the legislature on June 15 – defines “children” as those aged under 18. However, last November, crisis centre RainLily proposed adjusting the age threshold to define “child” as someone aged under 14, and a “young person” as someone between the ages of 14 and 16.

RainLily said in a Thursday press release that victims may be less willing to disclose details of any abuse they faced under a mandatory reporting system.

“A mandatory reporting system would further reduce the victim’s willingness to disclose details and cooperate with the investigation. Especially since sexual abuse is different from physical violence in that it does not necessarily cause obvious wounds, it is not easy to identify cases from scars or bruises,” the statement read.

According to the RainLily press release, a child sexual abuse survivor identified as “Bella” recounted her experience seeking help from social workers when she was 16, saying she was not willing to disclose details of the abuse unless they vowed not to report the case or tell her parents: “I will wait until I’m 18, when I’m old enough to move out, to say anything.”

The crisis centre added that – for older children – professionals ought to have flexibility in determining whether the case should be reported, depending on whether the young person wishes to do so.

Unifying existing legislation

The NGO also said the government should refer to the existing offence of “Causing or Allowing the Death or Serious Harm of a Child or Vulnerable Adult” introduced by the Law Reform Commission in 2021, the scope of which covers those under 16 years of age.

Citing the Commission’s report, RainLily said adjusting the age threshold would bring the reporting requirements in line with existing law, while giving those over 16 more autonomy over how they want to handle abuse cases.

File Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

“The [Commission’s] conclusion followed a public consultation and a great deal of thought from legal professionals. If the mandatory reporting mechanism relies on professionals to identify child abuse cases, the age thresholds should be aligned [with existing legislation],” the statement reads.

The Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse Bill was gazetted last Friday ahead of the legislative readings. It states that cases must be reported “as soon as practicable if there is a reasonable ground to suspect that a child has been suffering or is at real risk of suffering serious harm,” a Labour and Welfare Bureau statement issued last month reads.

Authorities will provide training for professionals to assist them in identifying cases as well as to help reduce over-reporting.

💡If you are in need of support, please call: The Samaritans 2896 0000 (24-hour, multilingual), Suicide Prevention Centre 2382 0000 or the Social Welfare Department 2343 2255. The Hong Kong Society of Counselling and Psychology provides a WhatsApp hotline in English and Chinese: 6218 1084. See also: HKFP’s comprehensive guide to mental health services in Hong Kong.

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James is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press with an interest in culture and social issues. He has a bachelor’s degree in English at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, with a minor in Journalism. He was previously a reporter at The Standard.