Hong Kong will introduce the Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse Bill (MRR) to LegCo on 14 June 2023. Below we provide some relevant extracts and our suggestions based on our work in tackling child sexual abuse.
At the meeting of the Executive Council on 23 May 2023, the Council ADVISED and the Chief Executive ORDERED that the Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse Bill (“Bill”), at Annex A, should be introduced into the Legislative Council (“LegCo”).
Children are vulnerable to abuse and neglect, as they may not be able to seek help or provide accounts of what happened in these cases. If the abuse or neglect is inflicted by the child’s parents or caregivers, such cases will less likely be reported by the families concerned. The harmful consequence of child abuse may negatively affect a child’s physical and psychological development for a lifetime, or even fatal in some cases.
- We agree with the justifications and further that with our research that estimates 96% of child sexual abuse cases in Hong Kong don’t come to the attention of authorities.
Whom to protect?
The Working Group proposes to define children as persons aged below 18
- We also agree that the definition of a child is someone below age 18
- However, the current laws in Hong Kong do not reflect that in Crimes Ordinance (Cap 200) which could mean that a 17 year old’s abuser is reported but the legal recourse may be challenging.
- Section 118C Homosexual buggery with or by man under 16
- Section 118D Buggery with girl under 21
- Section 123 Intercourse with girl under 13
- Section 124 Intercourse with girl under 16
- There are new Sexual Offences recommended by the Law Reform Commission which have not yet been gazetted and we recommend that they should be before MRR takes effect.
What types of suspected cases to be reported?
The Working Group proposes that mandated reporters should be required to make a report if, during the course of work, they have reasonable grounds to suspect that a child “has been suffering serious harm” or “is at real risk of suffering serious harm”. Acts or omissions that may cause serious harm to a child include examples set out below –
(a) inflicting physical injury on the child by violent means;
(b) forcing or enticing the child to take part in any sexual activity;
(c) intimidating, terrifying or denigrating the child in a severe or repeated manner such that the child’s psychological health is endangered or impaired; and
(d) neglecting the child’s basic needs in a severe or repeated manner such that the child’s health or development is endangered or impaired.
The Working Group proposes to exclude harm caused by another child from the MRR…
Who are mandated to make reports?
Professionals who have frequent contacts with children and whose professions are currently subject to some form of regulation should be covered under the proposed MRR
(i) Social workers
(ii) Child care workers/ child care supervisors
(iii) Superintendents of residential child care service units
(v) Wardens of boarding schools
(ix) Dental hygienists
(x) Chinese medicine practitioners
(xii) Occupational therapists
(xiii) Medical laboratory technologists
(xix) Speech therapists
(xxii) Clinical psychologists
(xxiii) Educational psychologists
What should be the appropriate level of penalty?
The Working Group proposes a 3-month imprisonment and a fine at level 5 (i.e. currently $50,000) if mandated reporters do not comply with the reporting requirement, vis-à-vis a 10-year imprisonment for perpetrators under section 27 of the Offences against the Person Ordinance (Cap. 212).
Some stakeholders have pointed out that teenage victims of sexual abuse could be deterred from seeking help from professionals if the proposed MRR allows no flexibility. The Working Group proposes to introduce a defence for a mandated reporter who has not reported a suspected child abuse case “as soon as practicable”, if the mandated reporter honestly and reasonably believes that the delay is in the best interests of the child, and on the condition that he/she must, during the delay, take actions that are reasonably necessary in the circumstances to protect the interests of the child (e.g. make appropriate arrangements to prevent further sexual abuse and address the child’s emotional disturbance).
- While we do support that a child is under the age of 18 we also concur that 14-17 year olds should have some special consideration for their cases being reported or not according to their wishes. Acknowledging that those in abusive homes may be in a very difficult situation and find it very hard to reach out for help.
- We are particularly concerned that this age group is served by organizations that may not be able to function if they and their service users knew they had to report their cases. This could lead in increased lack of care and prevention for this age group.
To allow sufficient lead time for the mandated reporters to complete training on their statutory obligation under the MRR and for the relevant professional bodies to review and amend their professional codes of practice/guidelines as necessary, we propose to implement the MRR 18 months after publication of the enacted legislation in the Gazette.
SWD will set up an e-learning platform to provide appropriate training for mandated reporters to facilitate their early identification and reporting of suspected child abuse cases. The full course will include two modules: basic knowledge of child protection and basic knowledge of relevant legal and reporting issues relating to MRR
- This is a critical portion of this bill. We encourage much more detailed description of what that training is and when it will roll out.
- Identifying and aiding a child in trauma is a very nuanced and delicate situation for the long-term health of the child over a life-time. We do not believe that 2 hours of online training would be sufficient for example.
- This training would need to cover a very large number of mandated reporters in Hong Kong according to the list in this reading. Perhaps hundreds of thousands. We would encourage more indepth training with international experts and survivors involvement to evolve such as https://www.csacentre.org.uk/training/courses-and-professional-development/
Other supportive measures
In anticipation of a substantial increase in the demand for emergency placement of children upon the commencement of the new legislation, SWD has already embarked on increasing residential child care service places. A new Residential Child Care Centre (“RCCC”) with 48 service places will commence operation in the first quarter of 2024. We envisage that each RCCC place can take care of an average of four children in a year (hence a total of 192 children each year), as children with family members or relatives would not normally stay in an emergency place for a prolonged period.
- The current lack of placements is already dire. Since TALK Hong Kong estimates 12% of children suffer from child sexual abuse and 96% of it is unreported, with reported cases only ~300 a year currently – we think the small 192 children a year is far too low.
- Children who have been sexually abused are often abused in a home setting and in many cases will need emergency placement.