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Neglect is a Form of Child Abuse. Protect our Children, Provide them with Safe and Nurturing Environments

10 September 2018

In the last article, we shared information on matters related to leaving children unattended. Aside from leaving child(ren) unattended, there were child abuse cases that involved parents or caregivers neglecting the basic needs of their children or children under their care. This article will continue to share information with readers about child abuse by neglect, the importance in providing sufficient supplies, care, and support for their children as well as the legal consequences for neglecting children’s needs by the sharing some cases that happened in Hong Kong.
When the subject of child abuse is brought up, often the first things that come to people’s minds will be physical or sexual Abuses.  Readers and the general public lack understanding about neglect as a form of child abuse. As quoted by UNICEF in its Review on the maltreatment of children published in 2012, “Neglect” can be broadly defined as “the failure to provide for the development of the child in all spheres: health, education, emotional development, nutrition, shelter, and safe living conditions, in the context of resources reasonably available to the family or caretakers and causes or has a high probability of causing harm to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development. This includes the failure to properly supervise and protect children from harm as much as is feasible”. The same Review also quoted statistics from a survey conducted in the Philippines, where many of our readers come from, that 40% of grade six students felt they were not provided with appropriate food and care and were frequently left home alone.
As we have mentioned in the previous article, child abuse by neglect is a criminal offence in Hong Kong. The "Offences Against the Person Ordinance" (Cap. 212, clause 26-27) stipulates that any person who unlawfully abandons or exposes any child, being under the age of two years, whereby the life of such child is endangered, or the health of such a child is or is likely to be permanently injured; or any person who willfully assaults, ill-treats, neglects, abandons or exposes such a child or young person under the age of 16 years under his custody, charge or care in a manner likely to cause such a child or young person unnecessary suffering or injury to his health shall be guilty of a criminal offence.
One of the cases that we would like to share is the widely publicized case of Herminia Garcia, a Filipino mother whose 15-year old daughter fell to her death from the luxury apartment that she shared with her partner, Nick Cousins. Garcia arrived in Hong Kong as a Foreign Domestic Worker (FDW) in 1994. She met Cousins and subsequently gave birth to two daughters in 1999 and 2000 at a private hospital in Hong Kong. The birth of their daughters was never registered and the girls did not own any travel documents. Without legal identities, the girls did not attend formal school and received their education through private tuition. Devastated by the passing of their daughter, Garcia and Cousins were arrested for neglect under Cap. 212. Although the charges against them were subsequently dropped, Garcia was given a 12-month jail sentence for overstaying her visa.
The case of Garcia and Cousins was controversial. While they loved their daughters, offered them private tuition and a comfortable living environment, the girls lacked legal identity, documentation, formal education and the right to freely develop their social life. As Garcia had overstayed her visa, the public generally believed that their decision was linked to her illegitimate immigration status in Hong Kong and her fear of deportation.
PathFinders has handled a number of cases of pregnant FDWs and migrant women who have overstayed their visa or whose visa was cancelled after being illegally dismissed by their employers. Pregnant mothers and mothers-to-be are advised to consider the risk and danger that they, their child(ren) and unborn child may face if living illegally in a compromised environment. PathFinders provides legal, healthcare and shelter support to pregnant FDWs and migrant women, assisting them with the process of surrendering to authorities and accessing available services through legal channels.
Another serious case of child neglect came to light in July 2015 when Mandy Wong carried her daughter, 7-year-old Suki Ling, to the hospital in a state of cardiac arrest, malnourished and covered with multiple wounds. Suki was so badly abused that she never regained consciousness and doctors believed that she would not live past 20. Suki was believed to be deprived of basic physical, emotional and medical care by her parents. In an attempt to defend herself, Wong claimed that Suki was anorexic and refused to eat. In July 2018, the judge called Suki “a Cinderella, an unwanted child who do not have a fairytale ending” as he handed Wong 10-year imprisonment, the maximum penalty for the violation of Cap. 212.
The two cases show that child abuse by neglect is not limited to acts that deliberately deprive a child of their basic needs and necessary care but also includes negligence by failing to protecting a child from danger, harm and unnecessary suffering. Children under the age of 16 may not be mature enough to to proactively seek help. Hence, parents and caregivers should prioritize their children’s safety and wellbeing over their personal interests, never neglect the importance of monitoring the physical and emotional wellness of their children, and should act proactively to provide necessary support.
Childcare support and child-rearing can be costly in Hong Kong. Parents and caregivers from less financially secure families may struggle to make ends meet and are often unable to provide for the needs and adequately care for their children. In Hong Kong, certain public and subsidized services are available to help these low-income families. Parents and caregivers are advised to contact Social Welfare Department or NGOs including PathFinders for assistance.
Apart from legal, healthcare and shelter services, PathFinders provides education workshops to pregnant migrant workers in distress and their Hong Kong-born children about childcare and parenting, and equips them with knowledge and practical advice about children’s developmental needs, and advice on how to protect them from abuse, be that virtual, physical or verbal. For information about PathFinders’ workshops, please visit our website at or call our client hotline.
If you suspect child abuse, please call the Hong Kong Police at 999. If you need other general advice and support, please contact Social Welfare Department at 2343 2255.

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