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Hong Kong passes child abuse reporting law covering 25 professions

“The adoption of this legislation is an important step for us to expand our child protection network as we will have more than 100,000 professionals working with us to protect our children,” said Secretary of Labor and Social Welfare Chris Sun Yuk-han.

Sun said the bill would come into effect 18 months after it was published in the official gazette as a regulation.

The government will offer training to professionals covered by the bill during this time, he said, adding that authorities have also set up advisory groups to develop guidelines for mandatory reporting.

The government introduced the bill to the Legislative Council for consideration in June last year after a series of child abuse scandals sparked public outrage and calls for better protection for children.

According to the bill, the 25 professions that are required to report cases of abuse include childcare workers, social workers, teachers, doctors, therapists, psychologists, pharmacists, midwives and others.

These professionals are required to make reports immediately upon becoming aware of any suspicion that a child has suffered or is at risk of serious harm in the course of their work.

The Bill sets out different types of serious harm, including harm that threatens physical health or life, such as loss of limb, injury to internal organs and broken bones, or harm that affects mental well-being, such as mental disorders and long-term psychological trauma.

Sexual abuse, including forcing or inducing a child to engage in rape, incest, sodomy, sexual intercourse or any act of gross indecency, also constitutes serious harm.

Neglect can occur when a child is not provided with the resources necessary to maintain life or health, or when a child is placed in a situation or environment that endangers his or her life or health.

Those who fail to comply with the reporting requirement will be prosecuted under a two-tiered penalty system. In less serious circumstances, prosecution may be expedited and the penalty level may be capped at a fine of HK$50,000.

In cases where the circumstances or consequences are more serious, criminal proceedings may be conducted by way of an indictment, which allows the court to impose a fine as well as a prison sentence of up to three months.

The penal mechanism also applies to persons who hinder or prevent the submission of notifications or reveal the identity of specific specialists who have submitted notifications.

The bill also allows professionals to use just cause for not filing a report as a defense.

Labor and Social Welfare Secretary Sun Chris Sun said the law would come into effect 18 months after it was published in the Gazette as an ordinance. Photo: Edmond So

Lawmakers on Thursday expressed support for mandatory crime reporting legislation they say could improve protection for children from harm, while the issue of maximum punishment for offenders was a major topic of debate.

Lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun proposed raising the maximum sentence from three months to a year.

“A good bill must essentially meet two principles – first, the maximum penalty is a deterrent and second, a prison sentence is enough for the person to learn from the experience and reflect deeply so as not to commit the crime again,” he said.

However, several other lawmakers said a prison sentence of up to three months was a balanced approach and would be enough to prompt relevant professionals to report abuse, while a harsher penalty could lead to false or excessive reporting out of fear of breaking the law.

“Increasing the maximum prison sentence to one year is too harsh on professionals … which could lead to a large number of erroneous reports and increase the burden on law enforcement officials, making it difficult to effectively implement the regulations,” said lawmaker Stanley Li Sai-wing.

Li also called on the government to implement a series of support measures, including offering training for specialists and expanding emergency child care services.

There have been a number of disturbing cases of child abuse in Hong Kong in recent years.

Among the latest cases was a nine-month-old girl who was allegedly abused by her nanny in January. The child suffered a blood clot in the brain and fell into a coma, and police arrested a 33-year-old woman who was recruited through a government-funded “community nanny” childcare program.

The Department of Social Welfare’s Child Protection Register recorded a total of 411 new cases of child abuse in the first three months of this year. Of these, 164 cases involved physical harm, followed by 146 cases of sexual abuse, 85 cases of neglect, 11 cases of repeated abuse and five cases of psychological harm.

A total of 1,457 cases were recorded throughout last year.