Government urged to toughen child protection laws

Sunday, June 1, 2008
Issue 361, Page 5
Word count: 559
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

The Association Against Child Abuse yesterday urged the government to draft child protection legislation before any more children fell victim.

The association handled nine child abuse cases last year, with six of the children younger than three.

So far this year the association has received 87 calls seeking assistance, up from 69 for the whole of last year.

The rising number proves that child abuse “does exist” in Macau and that more people are getting more concerned about the issue, said the child protection centre’s executive supervisor, Kitty Lam.

Speaking during the 2007 work review press conference at the association’s child protection centre in Taipa, committee member Priscilla Lui said part of the problem was a lack of legislation to protect the young.

Without improved laws against abuse police cannot begin investigations unless “there is a strong sign of child abuse and evidence”, by which time it could be too late, said Ms Lui.

One of the most common forms of child abuse is corporal punishment, according to the association.

Mrs Lui said she hoped Macau could join the other 24 countries in the world to set up legislation against corporal punishment. The association has found many parents hit their children as part of disciplining them.

Sweden is the pioneer in the field with anti-corporal punishment laws introduced in 1979, Mrs Lui added.

Of last year’s cases, three involved negligence which included leaving children home alone and not attending their basic needs such as food, clothing, accommodation, education and medical care, while two involved psychological and physical abuse.

Although the numbers do not suggest child abuse is prevalent in Macau, Ms Lam said what they knew of could be just “the tip of the iceberg and a lot more cases could be hidden in society as many victims are not willing to talk about it, especially if the abusers are the children’s close family members”.

In addition to strengthening education for parents, the association said having child protection legislation is necessary in the long-term to “avoid more tragedies from happening and have irresponsible parents punished”.

However, the executive supervisor pointed out that more accurate statistics about child abuse in Macau are not available from the Social Welfare Bureau at present. Ms Lam urged the government to set up a central database which would be of “great help for developing related government policy and social services”.

“As the child protection centre and specialised services to prevent child abuse are still in their infancy in Macau government measures still need to be improved,” Ms Lam said.

“A central database will help us understand how serious child abuse is in Macau and if it is getting worse or better.”

“We also want the government to set up guidelines for the public so that people including social workers, medical staff, police and legal officers will know what they can do if they see a child abuse case,” she added.

As the association this year will mainly focus on abuse prevention, a home visit service will be launched in which volunteers will talk to new mothers and help them deal with their emotions after giving birth to their first child.

“If our volunteers find a mother’s emotions fluctuate dramatically, the case will be reported to us and then we’ll try helping the family in order to prevent child abuse from happening,” Ms Lam said.

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