英文

Editorial:Mandatory reporting of child abuse should be implemented

【明報專訊】The father and stepmother of a five-year-old girl who was abused to death have been convicted of murder, while the mother of the stepmother has also been found guilty of two counts of child cruelty. The victim and her elder brother were abused for some time, but no one offered a helping hand. The case came to light three years ago and sparked public outrage. The Office of the Ombudsman once suggested that the government explore the feasibility of the mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse cases. The Law Reform Commission (LRC) also recommended that a ''failure to protect'' offence should be created to prevent child abuse. However, it remains a question when such recommendations will be implemented. Countries around the world have mechanisms for reporting child abuse, and Hong Kong can learn from their experience. The government must muster the determination to enact such laws as soon as possible.

The abused brother and sister were eight and five years old respectively at the time of the incident. Over the five months before she died, the victim had been living an inhuman life with her brother and suffering physical and mental torture of all kinds. Dr Ho Pak-leung, director of the Carol Yu Centre for Infection at the University of Hong Kong, testified as an expert witness that the child would not have died of septicaemia if she had not been abused and wounded. There are some organisations that have been concerned about child abuse for more than 40 years. The Social Welfare Department has also set up a helpline. However, the fact that the young brother and sister suffered from maltreatment for at least five months with no one lending a helping hand has highlighted major loopholes in the laws and the mechanisms for child abuse prevention.

During the trial, it was revealed that the young siblings were helpless and on their own. At home, their step-grandmother stood by and watched as the two children were abused. At school, teachers at the elementary school and kindergarten where they studied respectively noticed something peculiar. For instance, the elder brother had a swollen face and bruises on his thighs and walked with a limp, while the younger sister had red and swollen elbows and was absent from school for many days later. The death of the little girl cannot be simply blamed on the school or teachers. However, if the school had intervened earlier and more actively, there might have been a different outcome.

A decade ago, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child suggested that governments around the world establish a reporting mechanism for violence against children. Nevertheless, for so long Hong Kong has not had mechanisms or administrative measures to require professionals who have direct contact with children, such as teachers, social workers, doctors and nurses, to report to the Social Welfare Department or the police when suspecting or noticing a case of child abuse.

At the end of the year before last, the Office of the Ombudsman released an investigation report, suggesting that the government explore the possibility of mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse cases. In addition, the LRC suggested the creation of a ''failure to protect'' offence. If a caregiver fails to report a case of child abuse that he or she knows and fails to take steps to protect children from abuse, he or she can be held criminally liable. However, there has been no apparent progress in implementing both recommendations.

A mandatory reporting mechanism can increase the sensitivity of the related professionals towards child abuse cases. Some are worried that they might be easily involved in trouble because of a moment of inattention or a mistake. The government could draw on the experience of foreign countries to specify that if the relevant person reports in good faith, regardless of the outcome, he or she will be exempted from legal prosecution. The mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse has been implemented in dozens of countries. If it can be done in other places, there is no reason why it cannot be in Hong Kong.

明報社評 2021.04.15:虐兒致死駭人聽聞 盡早落實強制通報

5歲女童虐待致死案,涉案生父及繼母謀殺罪成,繼外婆兩項殘暴對待兒童罪名成立。受害女童及兄長,持續受虐一段時間,無人施以援手。這宗轟動一時的案件3年前曝光,申訴專員公署曾建議政府探討強制舉報懷疑虐兒個案,法律改革委員會亦建議訂立「沒有保護罪」,遏阻虐兒暴行,然而何時落實仍是一個問號。全球很多國家都有報告暴力侵害兒童行為的機制,可供香港參考,政府必須拿出決心,盡快落實相關立法。

案中受虐兄妹,事發時分別只有8歲及5歲。女童死前5個月,跟兄長一起過着非人生活,身心受盡折磨。港大感染及傳染病中心總監何栢良以專家證人身分作供,指出女童若沒遭虐待受傷,根本不會死於敗血症。本港早在40多年前已有關注虐兒問題的組織,社署亦設有求助熱線,小兄妹持續受虐至少5個月,偏偏無人伸出援手,突顯防止虐兒的法律和機制,存在重大漏洞。

審訊過程顯示,小兄妹孤立無援,在家中,繼外婆對兩人被虐袖手旁觀;在學校,兩人分別就讀的小學和幼稚園,皆有老師察覺異樣,如兄長面腫兼大腿有瘀痕,走路一拐一拐,妹妹則手肘紅腫,後更缺課多日。女童之死,不能簡單歸咎於學校或老師,可是如果校方能夠更早更積極介入,或結局不同。

十年前,聯合國兒童權利委員會已建議,各地政府應就暴力侵害兒童行為建立報告機制,然而香港一直沒有任何機制或行政措施,規定與兒童有直接接觸的專業人士,諸如教師、社工、醫生、護士等,在懷疑或知悉虐兒事件後,必須向社署或警方舉報。

前年底,公署發表調查報告,建議政府探討強制舉報懷疑虐兒個案。另外,法改會建議增設「沒有保護罪」,若照顧者知情不報,沒採取步驟保護兒童免受虐待,可追究刑責,然而無論是「沒有保護罪」立法,還是強制舉報機制,至今仍未見明顯進展。

強制舉報機制,可以提高相關專業人士對虐兒個案敏感度,有人擔心一時疏忽或搞錯,隨時惹禍上身,當局大可借鑑外地經驗,訂明相關人士只要「真誠報告」,不論結果為何,都可免被法律追究。強制通報懷疑虐兒個案,全球已有數十個國家立法落實,其他地方做得到,香港沒理由做不到。

■/ Glossary 生字 /

outrage /ˈaʊtreɪdʒ/:a strong feeling of shock and anger

muster /ˈmʌstə(r)/:to find as much support, courage, etc. as you can

in good faith:believing that what you are doing is right; believing that sth is correct

■英語社評聲檔:link.mingpao.com/53000.htm

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