Dr YANG Siu Ming, Sam
Dr Sam YANG
Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse
Hong Kong has seen a surge in child abuse case in recent years. According to the Child Protection Registry Statistical Report from Social Welfare Department, there were 1367 newly registered child abuse cases in 2021, compared to 940 cases in 2020. Child abuse incorporates any acts that may endanger or impair a child’s physical/psychological health and development. It can be categorized into physical abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse and neglect abuse. Parents or family members of children are supposed to be the persons whom the young ones can trust and rely on. However, they are also frequently the abuser themselves. Up to 65% of abusers are parents/family members according to the figure provided by social welfare department in 2021. When the parents/family members are the abusers, other non-involved family members often have hesitancy on reporting the abuse because of fear of “disrupting the harmony of the family”. This perpetuates the harm caused to the child.
Several serious child abuse cases with consequent death or serious disability of the child victim in recent years led to widespread media coverage of the issue. This heightened the awareness of the need for further actions to protect the child. The mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse has become statutory duty in some countries over the world and the government is currently seeking opinion from the public on its implementation.
The proposed legislation on mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse suggests professionals who have frequent contact with child to be mandatory reporters and they include the social worker or child care worker, teachers and health care professionals.
As frontline health care professional, we welcome more proactive measures to be implemented to protect children from any forms of abuse. Children belong to the socially vulnerable group and any form of abuse can lead to long term physical or psychological trauma. It is of utmost importance to protect them.
It is foreseeable that when the legislation begins to be in effect, the reporting of suspected child abuse case will rise sharply. This can be partly due to increased awareness of the issue among the public and partly because of lower threshold of the professionals in reporting to avoid inadvertently breaching the law. More resources will be needed to cater for the increased demand for reporting. On the other hand, more convenient reporting channel such as online reporting can be considered for those cases of less imminent risk.
It is welcomed that the government plans to provide training courses for those professionals considered to be mandatory reporter. On preparing such training courses, input can be sought from the professional organization in concern so as to meet the needs of the professionals.