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Prosecution proposed for those who turn blind eye to abuse

10 September 2021

 By Daisy CL Mandap 

The draft law now goes to the government for consideration and endorsement

A draft law that criminalizes one’s failure to stop the abuse of a child, an elderly or a person with disabilities was released by the Law Reform Commission today, Sept 10.

Under the proposal, anyone with a duty to care for a vulnerable person - including foreign domestic helpers - could be jailed up to 15 years in prison if the victim suffers serious harm, and 20 years if the victim dies.

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Amanda Whitford, who chaired the panel that drafted the legislation, said the law should cover members of the same household, including relatives and FDHs; social workers, care home workers, health care workers, teachers and police officers.

All these people are obliged to take “reasonable steps” to protect a victim if they were aware that abuse was being committed, said Whitford.

Pindutin para sa detalye

“This is simply a matter of saying that if we can’t find the perpetrator, the one who actually inflicted the blow, we would now be able to also prosecute those who knew about it, stood by and did nothing,” she said.

As an example, she said FDHs should report to authorities if they notice suspicious bruises on children left in their care.


“Say perhaps they wash the child and they see the constant bruising on the child, then they have an obligation under this law to take steps to try to avert that risk,” she said.

Whitford says helpers may make anonymous calls to Social Welfare or the police if they suspect abuse

Those actions could include making an anonymous phone call to the police or the Social Welfare Department or speaking to another member of the family who could intervene, said Whitford.

The commission said the law would apply in cases where it can’t be proven who out of several suspects is responsible for the crime, and as a result all of them go free.

Tunghayan ang isa na namang kwentong Dream Love

Currently, only a system of voluntary reporting of abuse cases exists for family members and professionals such as social workers and teachers. They do not have a legal obligation to report suspected abuse cases, and as such, they cannot be prosecuted or penalized.

The recommendations come as a result of a public consultation on the issue that the commission launched in 2019, shortly after the High Court ended one of Hong Kong’s most shocking cases of child abuse.

In the case that happened three years earlier, a five-year-old girl died of septicemia following months of horrific abuse at the hands of her father and stepmother and step-grandmother.

The couple was sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of murder, while the step-grandmother was jailed for child cruelty.

Drawings made by the 5-year-old girl shortly before she died

The commission’s proposals are passed on to relevant policy bureaus of the administration for consideration. The government will then decide whether to endorse them for adoption into law or not.

Meanwhile, recent statistics show a sharp rise in the number of child abuse cases reported in Hong Kong in the first quarter of the year. Between January and April, 279 child abuse cases were reported, up by more than two-thirds for the same period last year.

But social workers say the figures may be even higher amid the pandemic. The limited face-to-face interaction at school is said to have prevented teachers from keeping a close eye on students who may be facing ill-treatment at home.

The Social Welfare Department website says those who want to report domestic abuse may contact its Family and Child Protective Services Units here, or call its hotline: 23432255.

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