Child abuse cases stay hidden during Covid: police - RTHK
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Child abuse cases stay hidden during Covid: police

2021-04-23 HKT 00:11
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  • Police chief inspector Moon Cheung (left) said the coronavirus pandemic may have prevented child abuses cases from being reported. Photo: RTHK
    Police chief inspector Moon Cheung (left) said the coronavirus pandemic may have prevented child abuses cases from being reported. Photo: RTHK
Timmy Sung reports
The police say the pandemic may have prevented child abuse cases from being uncovered, as the force recorded a slight fall in the number of reports last year.

The issue of child abuse has come under the spotlight recently, after a couple were sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of their five-year-old daughter.

The force said there were 770 child abuse cases last year, a 5.5 percent decrease from 2019.

At a press briefing, chief inspector Moon Cheung from the force's family conflict and sexual violence policy unit attributed the fall in cases to social distancing measures, saying abuse usually comes to light after the victims tell other people, such as teachers.

"The prolonged pandemic is actually the cause of the fall in [reports of] child abuse cases", she said.

"During the pandemic, schools were suspended and because of various government social distancing measures ... it makes it more difficult for members of the public, teachers or social workers to be able to detect signs of child abuse," she said.

Cheung said that among the more serious cases last year, a mother was arrested for allegedly pouring hot water repeatedly onto her seven-year-old child over a period of five years.

Another mother was arrested on suspicion of strangling her seven-year-old child with a scarf because of homework issues.

The parents of a five-year-old boy were arrested after leaving him at home alone for several months because the mother couldn't return to Hong Kong from the mainland and instead asked a friend to check on him from time to time.

The chief inspector said it is often difficult for children to explain what has happened to them, which makes the gathering of evidence difficult.

She added that children are often very protective of their parents.

"It's very conflicting for them to testify against their parents if they are the abusers. Children are very easily influenced by other family members who may coerce them not to testify against the abusers, who may be their parents or family members," she said.

"So we have to be very careful when handling these child witnesses so that they will not feel bad when they give evidence against their family members."

Clinical psychologist Michael Fung from the force was asked what parents should do when they are angry with their children.

He said parents need to control their temper as they may view corporal punishment as an effective parenting method.

"If you are angry with your child, this is normal. The thing that we have to learn is to [control our] emotions, and not let other stuff happening in our lives affect our quality time with our children. It's very hard to balance between parenting and lashing out your emotions, but as parents, we have to be mature enough to separate what's going on between you and your child," he said.

The police said they welcome a proposed new law to make it mandatory for care providers, teachers and social workers to report suspected child abuse cases, adding the force is in constant dialogue with other government departments about how to make law enforcement more effective.