Social workers, teachers, nurses and doctors will be required to report suspected cases of serious child abuse in future under proposed legislation.
In a paper submitted to the Legislative Council, the government said it plans to introduce a bill on the mandatory reporting of serious child abuse, with professionals from the social welfare, education and healthcare sectors who have frequent contacts with children considered "mandated reporters".
They must file a report as soon as practicable if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that a child "has been suffering serious harm" or "is at real risk of suffering serious harm".
Inflicting physical injury on the child by violent means, for example, is reportable.
The Labour and Welfare Bureau said the mandatory reporting of cases involving serious harm is "to avoid the downside of over-reporting" and to make sure "scarce public resources focus on substantiated or imminent cases", as seen in overseas jurisdictions.
Violators face up to three months in prison and a HK$50,000 fine.
There will be exceptions, such as if a professional "honestly and reasonably believes" a delay in reporting the abuse is in the best interests of the child while reasonable and necessary actions are taken to protect the youngster, or that another person has already made a report regarding the same child.
Priscilla Lui, a leading children's rights advocate and a former member of the Commission on Children, welcomed the government proposal.
She also spoke about concerns that some mandated reporters may have, but said the interests of the child must come first.
"The call of concern is to alert various parties, not to be bystanders or to delay necessary services and actions for the help and handling of children being abused and neglected," she told RTHK.
"So I think instead of fearing that our interests or our benefits will be eroded or affected, I think the important thing is our concern, our time should direct towards how to ensure the system works, so that more children will be helped at an earlier stage."
The proposed legislation also states that no one should willfully obstruct a mandated reporter from making a report or disclose the identity of the mandated reporter, among other safeguards.
The mandatory reporting mechanism will be implemented 18 months after the proposed legislation is gazetted on Friday.
Authorities also said a new residential childcare centre run by the Social Welfare Department will come into operation in the first quarter of 2024, as they anticipate a substantial surge in the demand for emergency placement of children after the legislation takes effect.
The centre will have 48 service places and can take care of a total of 192 children each year on average.
But Lui raised concerns that the facility may not be able to meet demand, and urged the government to provide more follow-up measures to protect children.
Last updated: 2023-05-31 HKT 21:07