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


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)
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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




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。