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Spiking number of child abuse cases is ticking time bomb in Hong Kong

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Spiking number of child abuse cases is ticking time bomb in Hong Kong

By Lau Kin-shing

In recent years, Hong Kong witnessed a surge in cases of child abuse, with a record 1,439 registered cases (also known as child protection cases) in 2022. It is concerning that many of the perpetrators are family members of the victims. However, there has been an increase in incidents in which teachers or staff members in schools or dormitories have been implicated in harming children. This trend warrants attention and further investigation. 

Child abuse is a distressing and pervasive issue that affects the well-being of children worldwide. This commentary aims to explore the underlying reasons for the occurrence of child abuse incidents in Hong Kong from a psychological professional’s point of view. Additionally, it will shed light on the psychological impact on the victims and propose suggestions for improvements in addressing this pressing issue.

The occurrence of child abuse cannot be attributed to a single factor but is influenced by a complex interplay of sociocultural dynamics. In Hong Kong, the high-stress and competitive environment, coupled with long working hours, places a significant burden on families. This pressure can contribute to the breakdown of support systems and result in parental frustration, leading to abusive behavior. Additionally, cultural factors, such as the emphasis on discipline and “authoritarian” parenting styles, can contribute to the perpetuation of abusive behavior.

Family dynamics play a crucial role in child abuse incidents. Dysfunctional family structures, marital conflicts, and inadequate parenting skills can create an environment prone to abuse. Substance abuse, mental health issues, and a history of trauma within the family can exacerbate the risk of child abuse. Parental stress, particularly during economic hardship or unemployment, can increase the likelihood of abusive behavior as caregivers struggle to cope with their own emotional distress.

Child abuse has severe and long-lasting psychological consequences for the victims. Physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and emotional abuse can lead to a range of mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety disorders and difficulties forming relationships. These adverse experiences can affect children’s cognitive development, emotional regulation, self-esteem, and interpersonal relationships. The impact often extends into adulthood, perpetuating a cycle of violence and abuse.

Addressing child abuse requires a multifaceted approach, encompassing preventive measures, intervention strategies and support services. Raising public awareness about child abuse is crucial to combating this issue. Implementing comprehensive educational campaigns targeting parents, caregivers, teachers and community members can help promote healthy parenting practices, recognize signs of abuse, and encourage reporting. Schools should incorporate age-appropriate curricula that educate children about their rights, personal safety and healthy boundaries. Enhancing social support systems is essential in preventing child abuse. Investing in accessible and affordable mental health services can provide parents with the necessary resources to address their emotional well-being and cope with stressors. Community-based programs that offer parenting classes, counseling, and support groups can help foster healthy family relationships and strengthen parenting skills. Establishing effective protocols for identifying and reporting child abuse is paramount. 

Training professionals working with children, such as teachers, healthcare providers and social workers, to recognize signs of abuse and respond appropriately can facilitate early intervention. Creating safe spaces within schools and healthcare settings where children can disclose abuse confidentially is crucial to breaking the cycle of silence. Reviewing and enhancing existing child protection laws can ensure a comprehensive legal framework that adequately addresses the complexity of child abuse cases. This includes defining abuse more broadly to encompass emotional and psychological abuse, establishing clear reporting procedures, and implementing stricter penalties for offenders. Collaboration between law enforcement agencies, social services and the legal system is vital to ensuring effective implementation.

Developing trauma-informed services that prioritize the psychological well-being of child abuse victims is essential. This involves training professionals in trauma-informed practices, providing specialized counseling for victims and their families, and creating safe and supportive environments for recovery. Foster care systems should also be strengthened to ensure that abused children receive appropriate care and protection.

The Legislative Council recently conducted the first and second readings of the Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse Bill. I express my strong support for this significant initiative aimed at protecting children from abuse and harm. I appreciate the views expressed by government officials during the second reading.

The core of this bill is the establishment of a mandatory reporting mechanism to detect and intervene in potential child abuse cases at an early stage. Professionals, including those from the fields of social welfare, education and healthcare, will become mandatory reporters. If they have reasonable grounds to suspect serious harm to a child or are faced with an actual risk of serious harm, they must report it immediately. Such provisions will ensure that professionals can play a crucial role in providing comprehensive protection and serve as a deterrent to abusers.

The government emphasizes that the bill will provide statutory defenses and legal safeguards for mandatory reporters. Training will be provided to them, and practical guidelines will be prepared to assist in early identification, reporting and intervention in cases of child abuse, while reducing false reports.

Once the legislation comes into effect, it is expected that there will be a significant increase in the number of reported cases of child abuse. The government will need to increase the capacity of child accommodation and care services and provide emergency placements. Additionally, it needs to enhance public education and awareness campaigns to promote societal consciousness regarding child protection. Furthermore, the government needs to review and strengthen existing prevention and support measures to ensure the effectiveness of this ordinance.

Protecting children is a collective responsibility of our society, and this bill represents an important step forward in ensuring their safety and well-being. Let us join forces and support this initiative to provide every child with a safe, healthy and happy environment to grow in.

The author is vice-president of the Hong Kong Psychological, Counselling and Consultation Society, an international certified hypnotherapist instructor, and a senior Chinese psychological counselor and course instructor.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

【CDTT Newspaper Article】Lau Kin-shing:Spiking number of child abuse cases is ticking time bomb in Hong Kong (China Daily HK Edition, 26 July 2023)
https://www.chinadailyhk.com/article/342600#Spiking-number-of-child-abuse-cases-is-ticking-time-bomb-in-Hong-Kong
Chinese Dream Think Tank is a non-profit Hong Kong-based organization working with skilled volunteers, experts and professionals who are passionate about telling the China story well.

This article is reproduced by Kwun Media with the consent of China Daily.

中國夢智庫| 「虐兒」問題,恍如倒數中的定時炸彈

近年來,特區虐兒案件數字急劇上升,2022年更創下1,439件案件記錄(又稱保護兒童案件)。在形式多樣化的同類案件中,最令人擔憂的個案莫過於嫌疑施虐者就是受害者家人。近來社區更不斷發生涉及教師或學校宿舍職員傷害住校兒童的事件。這種趨勢值得大家關注,應展開相關問題的進一步調查研究。

虐兒是一種殘忍行徑嚴重影響著各地兒童的身心健康,同時也是一個存在於全球的普遍社會問題。筆者選文,從心理專業角度探討特區虐兒事件發生的潛在原因,闡明受害者會出現怎樣的心理影響,並提出改善建議,解決這個迫切問題。

虐兒的起因不是單一而是受到複雜的社會文化動態影響的結果。在特區,高壓生活步伐、激烈競爭環境與超長工時,給每個家庭帶來巨大壓力。這種壓力可導致心理健康支援系統崩潰,導致家長們感受到挫敗感,從而導致虐兒行為。此外,文化因素,例如強調紀律與「權威主義」式家庭教育方式,也是導致虐兒行為的不斷重演。

家庭動態(Family Dynamics)在虐兒事件中起著至關重要的作用。家庭結構功能失調、婚姻糾紛與育兒技能不足等都可能會導致家庭環境成為虐兒現場。發生在家庭裏藥物濫用、心理健康問題與成員遭受創傷經史都可能加劇出現虐兒的風險。大家注意,在照顧下一代其間,照顧者會因應對自己情緒困擾出現障礙,而導致虐兒。父母承受巨大壓力,特別是在經濟困難或失業期間,可能會增加虐兒行為發生的可能性,虐兒行為會對受害兒童產生嚴重且長期的心理影響。身體虐待、性虐待、忽視與情緒虐待可導致一系列心理健康問題,包括創傷後壓力障礙(PTSD)、抑鬱症、焦慮症與交際困難。這些不良經歷可能影響兒童的認知發展、情緒調節、自尊心受損與人際關係能力薄弱,這些方面因經歷過虐兒行為的影響,通常將延續到成年,進而形成延續暴力與虐兒的惡性循環。

解決虐兒需要多方面的參與和努力,其中包括預防措施、干預策略與支援服務。提高公眾對虐兒問題的認知是打擊這個問題至關重要的一個環節。針對父母、照顧者、教師社社區服務者們實施全面相關教育活動,可以幫助推廣健康育兒方式,識別虐兒的跡象,並鼓勵舉報。

學校應將適齡教育納入教育課程,教育兒童關於他(她)們自身的權利、個人安全與健康界限。增加社會支援系統對預防虐兒有著至關重要的作用。社會應加強投資在便利與價廉的心理健康服務。在這方面,社會可為父母提供必要的資源,教授應對情緒健康與應對壓力的技巧。基於社區的計劃提供育兒班、諮詢與支援小組等,都有助於促進健康家庭關係的培養與增強父母的育兒技巧。與此同時,建立有效的虐兒識別機制與舉報指引可是至關重要的一步。

培訓與照顧兒童相關的專業人士,如:教師、醫療保健提供者與社工,加強他(她)們識別虐兒跡象能力與適當應對方法,這些辦法都有助於處理虐兒的早期干預。為打破沉默循環的現象,應在學校與醫療保健機構內建立安全空間,讓兒童可以保密的形式透露被虐待的詳情,這一點非常重要。檢討與完善現存的保護兒童法律,確保特區擁有全面的法律框架,足夠地應對複雜的虐兒案件。

立法層面涉及更廣泛虐待行為的法律定義,包括情感與心理虐待,建立明確舉報程序,並對施虐者實施更嚴厲懲罰。執法機構、社會服務與法律體系之間的合作對於確保有效執法至關重要。應建立以創傷為本的服務,優先考慮虐兒案件受害者的心理健康。這包括對專業人員進行創傷知識實踐培訓,為受害者及其家人提供專門輔導,並創造安全與富有支援性的康復環境。也應完善領養系統,以確保受虐兒童得到適當的照顧與保護。

立法會最近進行了《強制舉報虐待兒童條例草案》的一、二讀。此草案旨在保護兒童免受虐待與傷害,筆者表示對這重要立法的堅定支持態度。同時,筆者在此表達對政府官員在二讀時發表的觀點表示欣賞。

這項草案的立法原意在於建立一個強制舉報機制,從而在早期發現虐兒行動與盡早介入有潛在性的虐兒案件。社會福利、教育與醫療保健領域專業人士們將成為強制舉報者。如果他(她)們在有合理理由懷疑兒童可能受到嚴重傷害,或面臨實際嚴重傷害的風險時,必須立即舉報。這些規定將確保專業人士在提供全面保護方面發揮關鍵作用,並對施虐者起到威懾作用。

政府強調該草案將為強制舉報者提供法定辯護與保障。為他(她)們提供培訓,並準備實用指南,以協助早期識別、舉報與盡早介入有潛在性的虐兒案件,同時減少虛報可能性。

該法律生效後,筆者預計虐兒案件數量將大幅增加。政府需要增加兒童住宿與照顧服務的配套設施,並提供緊急安置服務。此外,需要加強公共教育與宣傳活動,提高社會對兒童保護的意識。此外,政府還需要檢討與加強現有預防虐兒與支援措施,以確保該法律的有效實施。

保護兒童是全社會的共同責任,這項法案代表著進一步確保咱們下一代的安全與福祉。請大家攜手齊來支持這項新法,為每個生活在特區的孩子提供一個安全、健康與快樂的成長環境。

文:劉建誠
「中國夢智庫」精神健康事務總監
(IAPC)催眠課程簽證講師、中國高級心理諮詢師及課程導師、中國高級企業EAP諮詢師

文:丁煌
深圳大學基本法研究中心兼職研究員
經民聯港島支部主席,「中國夢智庫」主席
香港薈萃協會法律顧問,城市智庫成員
國際公益法律服務協會顧問委員會成員
全國港澳研究會會員

《中國夢智庫》是一間扎根特區的非牟利團體;與心存熱誠的資深義工、專家與職業專業人士們合作,攜手「說好中國故事」。

*作者文章觀點,不代表《觀新聞》立場