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Hong Kong has passed a law that will make reporting suspected child abuse mandatory.


Hong Kong’s parliament has approved a law requiring teachers, social workers, doctors and other specified professionals to report suspected serious cases of child abuse. Those who fail to comply could face up to three months in prison and a fine of HK$50,000.

Children in Hong Kong. Photo: GovHK.

The Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse Act was passed on Thursday, with a majority of lawmakers supporting the bill aimed at introducing a mechanism for early and effective detection and intervention in cases of child abuse.

Under the new law, a list of 25 specific professionals must make a report if they suspect a child has been seriously harmed or is at real risk of serious harm in the course of their work. The government has estimated that more than 100,000 professionals will be subject to the rules.

25 categories of specific professionals

Social workers

Childcare workers/childcare providers

Supervisors of units providing childcare services in orphanages

Teachers

Boarding school guardians

Nurses

Doctors

Dentists

Dental hygienists

Practitioners of Chinese medicine

Physiotherapists

Occupational therapists

Medical laboratory technicians

Optometrists

Radiologists

Pharmacists

Midwives

Chiropractors

Speech therapists

Dietitians

Audiologists

Clinical psychologists

Educational psychologists

Under the Act, conduct that could constitute serious harm to a child includes causing physical harm, forcing or inducing a child to engage in a sexual act, and intimidating, frightening or humiliating a child in a serious or repeated manner that has resulted in a mental health impairment. Neglecting a child’s basic needs in a repeated manner that has resulted in a health or developmental impairment has also been considered to constitute serious harm to a child.

Legislative Councilor Michael Tien. Archive photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The law has provided protection to professionals by criminalizing the obstruction or hindrance of reporting. It is also illegal to reveal the identity of the person filing the report.

Anyone violating the rules will be punished with three months’ imprisonment and a fine of HK$50,000.

The city’s opposition-free legislature witnessed a rare, intense debate as the bill was considered by lawmakers. Michael Tien of the Roundtable criticized the sentence as too lenient and said it would not have a deterrent effect. An appropriate prison sentence should be increased from three months to one year, he said.

Tien’s colleagues, however, did not support his proposal, arguing that sentencing any professional to three months in prison for non-compliance with the regulations was already a harsh punishment.

Tien ultimately abstained from voting, while 79 lawmakers voted in favor of the bill.

Secretary of State for Work and Social Welfare Chris Sun File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Work and Social Care Secretary Chris Sun urged lawmakers to support the government’s bill, saying the debate lasted more than six hours and defending the proposal as the “best” solution after the government listened to public feedback.

“We had a long discussion today. The length of the prison sentence is not the most important thing. The most important thing is that they must be imprisoned. For us, there is no absolute certainty about the appropriate length of the sentence,” the minister said in Cantonese.

The non-governmental organization RainLily said Thursday that many of the designated professionals who are required to report serious cases of child abuse are not specialized in providing support to victims or survivors of sexual violence. The organization called on authorities to include the voices of survivors of childhood sexual abuse in a guide that would help professionals identify cases that require reporting.

“This will ensure that the entire reporting and handling process is trauma-informed, thereby avoiding secondary trauma to victims due to false or wrongful reports,” RainLily said in a statement in English.

Archive photo: Sodanie Chea, via Openverse.

Calls for the legislation have been renewed in recent years after Hong Kong was hit by a series of scandals at nurseries and schools across the city. In late 2021, more than 30 staff members at the Children’s Residential Home were arrested for abusing young children. The alleged abuse included hitting heads, pulling hair, slapping and throwing children to the ground and against a wall.

In June last year, a 56-year-old former employee of the Children’s Home was sentenced to 27 months in prison for abuse, his harshest sentence to date.

In March, local media reported that Hong Kong recorded 1,349 cases of child molestation last year, a 12.3% increase from the 2022 figure. About half of the cases involved sexual abuse and the other half physical violence, police said in a limited media interview. The HKFP was not invited to participate.

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