The DAB Women Affairs Committee held a roundtable discussion on “Protecting Children From Harm” due to the recently discovered cases of child abuse. The meeting was chaired by DAB Spokesperson on Welfare Services and Legislative Councilor Leung Che-Cheung. Chairperson of the DAB Women Affairs Committee and Legislative Councilor Elizabeth Quat was also in attendance. We invited Chairperson of the Hong Kong Committee on Children’s Rights (HKCCR) Mrs. Priscilla Lui, Service director of the Hong Kong Society for the Protection of Children (HKSPC) Tao Chan, Against Child Abuse (ACA) Acting Director Donna Wong and Marriage and Family Therapist Cristina Yu. From the education sector we invited Director of the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers and Principal of the Tsuen Wan Trade Association Primary School Chow Kim Ho and Principal of St. Monica’s Anglo-Chinese Kindergarten Dr. Ada Mak to attend the discussion. All of them gave important advice on children’s welfare to the government.
There have been a number of shocking cases of child abuse recently. A five year old girl was suspected to have been abused to death in Tuen Mun, which has caused shock and pain to society. DAB Chairperson Starry Lee feels that as the divorce rate has gone up in recent years and so has the rate of cross-border marriages. This has made family problems in Hong Kong more complex. Hong Kong society should face the problem squarely and visit families which have these underlying problems and prevent these tragedies from reoccurring.
DAB Women’s Affairs Committee Chairperson Elizabeth Quat made a criticism that Hong Kong is very weak in protecting children from abuse, whether in law, education, welfare assistance, the role of the government or parental education. The Committee has already created a petition to protect children from such abuse requesting that the reporting mechanism be expanded to kindergartens, that each primary school must have a social worker, and to strengthen the training and guidance of kindergarten and primary school teaching staff.
The Secretary for Labour and Welfare has already stated that it will research how to solve this issue in the public hearing last week and we urge them to begin as soon as possible. Also, the DAB has always promoted setting up a “Children’s Affairs Committee” and strongly urge the government to set up an effective committee with powers and duties to promote policies that comprehensively protect children. In the coming days we will again express to the Chief Executive and the Chief Secretary for Administration a list of proposals. We hope the government can work together to promote more policies, legislation and financial support to ensure the protection of children from harm and abuse.
Principal Ada Mak expressed that once schools discover a case of suspected child abuse, they can only ask for help from the Social Welfare department. As there is no set mechanism in place, the Social Welfare department will often say that they have insufficient personnel to deal with the problem and turn these cases into “cold cases”. Therefore, she really hopes the government can set up an independent support system for kindergartens and help schools to deal with suspected cases as soon as possible and therefore stop children from continuing to be abused. Principal Chow Kim Ho feels that the government should set up establishment of social workers in both elementary schools and kindergartens to prevent cases of abuse for high-risk students. He also said to perfect the system to report child abuse and ensure that cases will be dealt with promptly.
ACA acting director Donna Wong said that severe cases of abuse often start off with lighter forms of corporal punishment that are not stopped in time to prevent tragedies from occurring. She proposed that the government to make legislation comprehensively banning corporal punishment to protect children from abuse. The service director for the HKSPC Tao Chan proposed a three-tiered method of stopping child abuse and feels that schools are a way to prevent such abuse and that the role of the social worker is vital. HKCCR Chairperson Priscilla Lui reiterated the importance of setting up a children’s affairs committee, and she hoped that the government will follow the examples of foreign governments and punish such cases severely.
Also, Marriage counsellor Cristina Yu pointed out that from the perspective of abused children, they may come to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and that this will cast a dark shadow over their studies and growth and perhaps their entire lives. If this is not dealt with properly this may even become an intergenerational problem and cause negative effects on society and the family. Therefore she believes that to prevent domestic violence and child abuse it is vital to support the parents. We should also teach psychological health to the next generation and provide counselling and help to struggling and high-risk families as soon as possible.
Meeting Chairperson Leung Che-Cheung requested the government to speed up related legislation, to protect children from harm and continue to speak up for the rights and welfare of children. We will organize the proposals mentioned during this meeting and give them to the Chief Secretary for Administration as well as the Secretaries for Education, Labour and Welfare. We hope that the government will take these proposals seriously and take action upon them in good time.
Legislative Councilor Leung Che-Cheung (9016-8088)
Legislative Councilor Elizabeth Quat (9031-7995)