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 Text by : So Mei Chi | Translated by : Yoyo Chan

 


Dr. Jessica Ho, the Director of Against Child Abuse (ACA), believes that we are going through the most complicated ten years of the child abuse situation. “We must intervene as early as possible, alongside the advocacy of institutional and legal protection.”

 

 

If an adult was accused of child abuse thirty-seven years ago, he would claim that the lashing scars on a child’s arm were “something trivial”.

 

 Thirty-seven years on, ACA hopes to bring forth an understanding that child abuse is not as simple as leaving lashing scars on arms.

 

In 1978, a lonesome bony silhouette limped into Kwun Tong Police Station. The girl, who weighed only forty pounds, suffered from a number of bone fractures and part of her head was bald from the hair being torn off. She did not look like she was already ten years old at all. This severe case of child abuse has triggered an avalanche of awareness back then, which also led to the establishment of ACA in Hong Kong. Since then, ACA and children in Hong Kong have experienced a few phases of transformation together.

 

The First Decade: Caning as “Trivial”

Dr. Jessica Ho says, “1979 to 1989 is our first decade. At that time, local children were mostly distressed by physical abuse. Even when we confronted the parent with a couple or more than ten caning scars found on his child, he would shrug off as ‘something trivial.’” That was a time when child abuse remained unclear to many. A majority of people were unacquainted with the topic of children’s rights and an appropriate concept was yet to be developed. It was also a pioneering stage for the newly found ACA to establish systems and professional collaborations.


The Second Decade: Legislative Amendments Reveal Sexual Abuse Cases

As ACA embarked on its second decade (1989-99), physical abuse has gradually received more attention in Hong Kong and the progress was marked by two significant millstones – the Court’s abolition of juridical caning in 1990 and the prohibition of school corporal punishment two years later. However, as Dr. Ho points out, the number of child sexual abuse case, with an initial single-digit yearly record, has increased drastically for a couple of hundred times – in truth, the legislative amendments have allowed a lot of hidden victims to resurface.

 

“In the past, filing a sexual abuse case in court required both witness and physical evidence. It was very difficult and the proceeding was hugely detrimental to the child victims. They thought that no one could help even when they were willing to speak up, thus became reluctant to disclose.”

 

The situation finally took a turn for the better when Hong Kong had agreed to meet the standards in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1994. Subsequently in 1995, the government amended the rules of criminal procedure and evidence submission. Videotaped statement of the child victim could be accepted as evidence. The victim, accompanied by social worker, could also testify via closed-circuit television in a child-friendly suite in court. To keep abreast of the social trend, ACA has also shifted its work focus to the support service for sexual abuse victims over those ten years.


The Third Decade: Prevention of Leaving Children Unattended

During the third decade (1999-2009), Hong Kong has seen a number of injuries and deaths of unattended children. ACA corresponded by introducing more prevention programmes for early intervention, which included pitching the message of home safety to expectant mothers. Such focus has also sown the seeds of positive discipline to families and, in doing so, facilitated the promotion of children’s rights in the long run.

 

“When we explain to parents about children’s rights, we tell them that it is not about teaching children to usurp power from their parents, but respecting children as humans who are also entitled to the rights to survival, development, participation, and protection.”


Into the Fourth Decade: Getting More Complicated

The fourth decade of ACA (2009–present) is, considered by Dr. Jessica Ho, the most complicated ten years. The increasingly blurry boundary between the virtual and real world has brought new challenges to child protection. The looming social tension and livelihood issues have not only upset adults, but also put children subordinated to them at even greater risk. Spousal and elder abuse, noted with an increase in the number of cases, also cause distress to the child witnesses at home.

 

The number of child abuse cases has risen consistently during this period of time. For instance, the official record shows that there were 874 newly reported child abuse cases in 2015, showing an increase of 15 % compared with ten years ago. However, Dr. Ho thinks that the statistics only reflect the tip of the iceberg because a lot more child abuse cases are not recorded, in particular cases of psychological abuse. Hard to define in itself, the concept of psychological abuse has not been met by extensive social recognition.

 

According to the Social Welfare Department, “Psychological Abuse” refers to the repeated pattern of behaviour and attitudes towards a child or extreme incident that endangers or impairs the child’s emotional or intellectual development. Examples include acts of spurning, terrorising, isolating, exploiting or corrupting, denying emotional responsiveness, conveying to a child that he/she is worthless, flawed, unwanted or unloved. Such act damages immediately or ultimately the behavioural, cognitive, affective, or physical functioning of the child.

 

Despite the detailed description, psychological abuse is rather difficult to be identified in a domestic context. “Different parties would have divergent opinions on whether a case should be classified as psychological abuse – even among a group of professionals consisting of paediatricians, social workers, school principals and teachers, and police,” reveals Dr. Ho.


Resources for Children in Our Contemporary: Too Many or Too Few?

Too many resources, too little space is also a problem shared by Hong Kong children nowadays. “We seem to be living in a rather well-off society, but forget to leave space for our children. Fully occupied by endless study tasks, children are stripped of the opportunity for psychological growth. They can hardly spare time to relax or organise themselves, let alone time to play.

 

“Play is, in fact, part of children’s right to development. It is very important. The right to participation and other children’s rights are also seriously exploited.”

 

Yet, under the same sky, some children are strained by unimaginable poverty. Official statistics show that Hong Kong has 1.32 million poor people, meaning on average one in five people are living under the poverty line. “We have centres in low-income areas like Tuen Mun and Chuk Yuen, where many families are still living in cubicle apartments. Parents seldom travel out of their residential area with their children so as to save transportation expenses.”

 

Hard times tend to fall on children whose parents fail to handle their emotions in adversity. In other words, support for parents is equivalent to support for children. This is also why ACA sets up a new centre in Kwai Chung, a district that houses the third largest population of low-income families in Hong Kong.

 

 Support for parents is equivalent to support for children.

 


“Kwai Chung Centre” Reinforces Support for Parents

Earlier this year, Fu Tak Iam Foundation Limited has completed the rebuilding of an eight-storey factory. Since the Foundation is dedicated to developing a new model of charity, half of the space of the building is designated to non-governmental organisations – ACA is amongst one of the first tenants.

 

“To create a more spacious environment for parents to relax, the design of the new Kwai Chung centre has minimal compartments. The centre has also set a leisure corner and a play corner. The happy kitchen in the leisure corner invites parents to enjoy no-smoke cooking with their children. The play therapy elements at the play corner allow us to observe the child participants and our observation will be passed on to their parents.” Dr. Ho says that, since its opening in June, the centre has gradually become a gathering hub for parents in the district.

 

“We hope that parents can feel accepted in our centre. They can come by and enjoy their time here after taking their kids to school every morning. Through spending some time with themselves, they can have a better grasp of their own emotions, and furthermore network with other parents for mutual support.”

 

“We also hope that they would not see children as a problem. Parents need to forsake their irrational thoughts, learn to confront problems with their children and, in doing so, recognise the problem-solving capacity of their children.”

  

Zen dining and music for parents to  

 get in touch with themselves

 

 

 Advocating Cooperation with Parents

As early as in 1986, ACA has developed a parent support network at its Tuen Mun centre. Dr. Ho considers the programme a huge success. A lot of mothers, initially members of the network, have taken a step forward by volunteering and subsequently involving their family members of the next generation to participate. Furthermore, some of them have joined Dr. HO and spoken up at various occasions, becoming active advocates of child protection.

 

ACA has been advocating a range of topics to ensure respects for the voice and opinions of our children. Initiatives include – a total ban of corporal punishment inside and outside of home; providing primary prevention service for parents with newborn babies; offering systematic parent education and support service to high-risk groups; institutionalising statutory “Sex Offender Record Check”; establishing a review mechanism for severe child abuse; conducting comprehensive and regular reviews for laws, policies, and service for child protection in Hong Kong; developing a central database for child protection; and creating independent systems like the Committee on Children’s Rights.

 

“Advocating initiatives is very important to child protection and the government cannot have no blueprint, goal, planning, or resources.” Dr. Ho reiterates, “We also hope the general public to understand that sound investments in our children can save a lot of social resources from future remedy. Child protection is a responsibility shared among each and every one of us and it would not be possible without concerted efforts from the whole society.”

 

Child Abuse Treatment Corner

Child Abuse Treatment Corner has been funded by Fu Tak Iam Foundation Limited since 2013. The project consists mainly of two parts – therapeutic groups and home visitations to new parents. Through adopting cognitive behavioural therapy, parents who have corporally punished or encountered difficulties in disciplining their children can explore the reasons for their emotional outbursts together. Parents can learn about their emotions and identify their most susceptible pressure points, as well as examining their serial reactions experienced from the beginning to the actual occurrence of their outbursts.


“I am only venting my own emotions.”

During the sixth or seventh session of one of the groups, a parent participant expressed, “I now try my best not to beat my child and would rather leave whenever I cannot hold back…I have a feeling that I probably beat him only for venting my own emotions, nothing to do for him.” Project social worker Ms. Manki Wong recalled that, after that sharing, other parents also looked embarrassed, as if the hidden truth has been exposed. The sharing marks the revelation journey experienced by parents in the group and that moment has left Ms. Wong a very vivid impression.

 

The group also encourages parents to re-evaluate their inherent view on their children’s behaviours. For instance, some parents complain about their child’s lie-in in the morning and procrastination of doing homework, claiming these behaviours as “declaring opposition.” To guide the discussion, social worker in the group would ask – is there any concrete evidence to support such conclusion? Are there other possible reasons for your child’s behaviours? Is it simply because he is exhausted?

 

“While most people tend to focus and exaggerate the inappropriate behaviours itself, we believe that every move of a child has a reason. Why would they procrastinate when it comes to homework time? Has the reason behind been dealt with? To practise positive discipline, a children need to feel the eagerness of his/her mum and dad to understand and accept them unconditionally,” explains project social worker Ms. Kennis Cheng. “Parents often change their perception of their child once having acquired a new perspective, thus respond differently towards the child’s behaviours.”


Implementing the Concept of Collaboration

Members of the group are also capable of influencing each other. A parent once said, “No good child without beating.” Another parent in the group responded instantly, “I have been beating my child since he was small. He is now in primary six. He does not only know how to fight back, but also learn to leave the house. Beating is of no use.” Therefore, in hopes of enhancing mutual inspiration and collaboration, project social workers tend to arrange parents of different age ranges in the same group on occasions.

 

Some members of the group are referred from various service units of the centre, whilst some are recruited from schools. School teachers would recommend parents who have encountered difficulties in disciplining or have performed corporal punishment on their children. Schools would also refer children who have experienced corporal punishment or emotionally disturbed by family to issues therapeutic groups for children.

 

Some children demonstrate their destructive power when they first join the group and some even threaten, “Don’t you believe I will beat you up?” Given such tendency for violence, their daily lives are not beyond imagination. Social workers would help these psychologically bruised children to learn about their own emotions and rebuild their self-esteem. For instance, children are encouraged to give credits to their own strengths and appreciate their groupmates after every session.

 

                                              

 

The child’s dreamcatcher bears all

sorts of fantasies and wonders. Having a

dream is also a source of self-esteem.

 

                                                                                                                                       

  

“What? You don’t tell people off?”

“A lot of kids are subjected to caning once they get home; some are greeted by the most despicable insults from their loved ones.

 

These children render themselves useless and feel inadequate or even hostile to others. Many of them are disorientated and insecure about joining the group – do I have to join the group because I am problematic? Will the social workers yell at me?” Ms. Wong recalls, “A primary three or four child in the group was startled, ‘What? You don’t tell people off?’ Basically no one has complimented him throughout all these years - it is heart-breaking.” This boy is one of the most memorable cases for Ms. Wong. At first, he behaved rather hostile against others in the group, but later on expressed his desire to be next year’s class prefect.

 

In addition to the therapeutic groups, the Treatment Corner has introduced the “Volunteer Home Visitation Service for Families with Newborn” in the mid of last year. Volunteers with parenting experience are recruited for visits to expectant mothers who are at least twenty-four weeks pregnant, as well as families with babies aged under one year old. Project social worker Ms. Becky Wong points out that the birth of a child often turns the world of new mother and father upside down. Apart from the emotion effects resulted from the fluctuating hormone levels before and after pregnancy, new parents need to adjust themselves to a new mode of family life and couple relationship. The experienced volunteers can hopefully reassure new parents and, in celebration of the arrival of a new life, share with them tips for positive discipline and lay a foundation for a happy family.

 

After all, prevention is better than cure and the same goes for issues of child abuse.

 

 Text by : So Mei Chi | Translated by : Yoyo Chan

 


Dr. Jessica Ho, the Director of Against Child Abuse (ACA), believes that we are going through the most complicated ten years of the child abuse situation. “We must intervene as early as possible, alongside the advocacy of institutional and legal protection.”

 

 

If an adult was accused of child abuse thirty-seven years ago, he would claim that the lashing scars on a child’s arm were “something trivial”.

 

 Thirty-seven years on, ACA hopes to bring forth an understanding that child abuse is not as simple as leaving lashing scars on arms.

 

In 1978, a lonesome bony silhouette limped into Kwun Tong Police Station. The girl, who weighed only forty pounds, suffered from a number of bone fractures and part of her head was bald from the hair being torn off. She did not look like she was already ten years old at all. This severe case of child abuse has triggered an avalanche of awareness back then, which also led to the establishment of ACA in Hong Kong. Since then, ACA and children in Hong Kong have experienced a few phases of transformation together.

 

The First Decade: Caning as “Trivial”

Dr. Jessica Ho says, “1979 to 1989 is our first decade. At that time, local children were mostly distressed by physical abuse. Even when we confronted the parent with a couple or more than ten caning scars found on his child, he would shrug off as ‘something trivial.’” That was a time when child abuse remained unclear to many. A majority of people were unacquainted with the topic of children’s rights and an appropriate concept was yet to be developed. It was also a pioneering stage for the newly found ACA to establish systems and professional collaborations.


The Second Decade: Legislative Amendments Reveal Sexual Abuse Cases

As ACA embarked on its second decade (1989-99), physical abuse has gradually received more attention in Hong Kong and the progress was marked by two significant millstones – the Court’s abolition of juridical caning in 1990 and the prohibition of school corporal punishment two years later. However, as Dr. Ho points out, the number of child sexual abuse case, with an initial single-digit yearly record, has increased drastically for a couple of hundred times – in truth, the legislative amendments have allowed a lot of hidden victims to resurface.

 

“In the past, filing a sexual abuse case in court required both witness and physical evidence. It was very difficult and the proceeding was hugely detrimental to the child victims. They thought that no one could help even when they were willing to speak up, thus became reluctant to disclose.”

 

The situation finally took a turn for the better when Hong Kong had agreed to meet the standards in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1994. Subsequently in 1995, the government amended the rules of criminal procedure and evidence submission. Videotaped statement of the child victim could be accepted as evidence. The victim, accompanied by social worker, could also testify via closed-circuit television in a child-friendly suite in court. To keep abreast of the social trend, ACA has also shifted its work focus to the support service for sexual abuse victims over those ten years.


The Third Decade: Prevention of Leaving Children Unattended

During the third decade (1999-2009), Hong Kong has seen a number of injuries and deaths of unattended children. ACA corresponded by introducing more prevention programmes for early intervention, which included pitching the message of home safety to expectant mothers. Such focus has also sown the seeds of positive discipline to families and, in doing so, facilitated the promotion of children’s rights in the long run.

 

“When we explain to parents about children’s rights, we tell them that it is not about teaching children to usurp power from their parents, but respecting children as humans who are also entitled to the rights to survival, development, participation, and protection.”


Into the Fourth Decade: Getting More Complicated

The fourth decade of ACA (2009–present) is, considered by Dr. Jessica Ho, the most complicated ten years. The increasingly blurry boundary between the virtual and real world has brought new challenges to child protection. The looming social tension and livelihood issues have not only upset adults, but also put children subordinated to them at even greater risk. Spousal and elder abuse, noted with an increase in the number of cases, also cause distress to the child witnesses at home.

 

The number of child abuse cases has risen consistently during this period of time. For instance, the official record shows that there were 874 newly reported child abuse cases in 2015, showing an increase of 15 % compared with ten years ago. However, Dr. Ho thinks that the statistics only reflect the tip of the iceberg because a lot more child abuse cases are not recorded, in particular cases of psychological abuse. Hard to define in itself, the concept of psychological abuse has not been met by extensive social recognition.

 

According to the Social Welfare Department, “Psychological Abuse” refers to the repeated pattern of behaviour and attitudes towards a child or extreme incident that endangers or impairs the child’s emotional or intellectual development. Examples include acts of spurning, terrorising, isolating, exploiting or corrupting, denying emotional responsiveness, conveying to a child that he/she is worthless, flawed, unwanted or unloved. Such act damages immediately or ultimately the behavioural, cognitive, affective, or physical functioning of the child.

 

Despite the detailed description, psychological abuse is rather difficult to be identified in a domestic context. “Different parties would have divergent opinions on whether a case should be classified as psychological abuse – even among a group of professionals consisting of paediatricians, social workers, school principals and teachers, and police,” reveals Dr. Ho.


Resources for Children in Our Contemporary: Too Many or Too Few?

Too many resources, too little space is also a problem shared by Hong Kong children nowadays. “We seem to be living in a rather well-off society, but forget to leave space for our children. Fully occupied by endless study tasks, children are stripped of the opportunity for psychological growth. They can hardly spare time to relax or organise themselves, let alone time to play.

 

“Play is, in fact, part of children’s right to development. It is very important. The right to participation and other children’s rights are also seriously exploited.”

 

Yet, under the same sky, some children are strained by unimaginable poverty. Official statistics show that Hong Kong has 1.32 million poor people, meaning on average one in five people are living under the poverty line. “We have centres in low-income areas like Tuen Mun and Chuk Yuen, where many families are still living in cubicle apartments. Parents seldom travel out of their residential area with their children so as to save transportation expenses.”

 

Hard times tend to fall on children whose parents fail to handle their emotions in adversity. In other words, support for parents is equivalent to support for children. This is also why ACA sets up a new centre in Kwai Chung, a district that houses the third largest population of low-income families in Hong Kong.

 

 Support for parents is equivalent to support for children.

 


“Kwai Chung Centre” Reinforces Support for Parents

Earlier this year, Fu Tak Iam Foundation Limited has completed the rebuilding of an eight-storey factory. Since the Foundation is dedicated to developing a new model of charity, half of the space of the building is designated to non-governmental organisations – ACA is amongst one of the first tenants.

 

“To create a more spacious environment for parents to relax, the design of the new Kwai Chung centre has minimal compartments. The centre has also set a leisure corner and a play corner. The happy kitchen in the leisure corner invites parents to enjoy no-smoke cooking with their children. The play therapy elements at the play corner allow us to observe the child participants and our observation will be passed on to their parents.” Dr. Ho says that, since its opening in June, the centre has gradually become a gathering hub for parents in the district.

 

“We hope that parents can feel accepted in our centre. They can come by and enjoy their time here after taking their kids to school every morning. Through spending some time with themselves, they can have a better grasp of their own emotions, and furthermore network with other parents for mutual support.”

 

“We also hope that they would not see children as a problem. Parents need to forsake their irrational thoughts, learn to confront problems with their children and, in doing so, recognise the problem-solving capacity of their children.”

  

Zen dining and music for parents to  

 get in touch with themselves

 

 

 Advocating Cooperation with Parents

As early as in 1986, ACA has developed a parent support network at its Tuen Mun centre. Dr. Ho considers the programme a huge success. A lot of mothers, initially members of the network, have taken a step forward by volunteering and subsequently involving their family members of the next generation to participate. Furthermore, some of them have joined Dr. HO and spoken up at various occasions, becoming active advocates of child protection.

 

ACA has been advocating a range of topics to ensure respects for the voice and opinions of our children. Initiatives include – a total ban of corporal punishment inside and outside of home; providing primary prevention service for parents with newborn babies; offering systematic parent education and support service to high-risk groups; institutionalising statutory “Sex Offender Record Check”; establishing a review mechanism for severe child abuse; conducting comprehensive and regular reviews for laws, policies, and service for child protection in Hong Kong; developing a central database for child protection; and creating independent systems like the Committee on Children’s Rights.

 

“Advocating initiatives is very important to child protection and the government cannot have no blueprint, goal, planning, or resources.” Dr. Ho reiterates, “We also hope the general public to understand that sound investments in our children can save a lot of social resources from future remedy. Child protection is a responsibility shared among each and every one of us and it would not be possible without concerted efforts from the whole society.”

 

Child Abuse Treatment Corner

Child Abuse Treatment Corner has been funded by Fu Tak Iam Foundation Limited since 2013. The project consists mainly of two parts – therapeutic groups and home visitations to new parents. Through adopting cognitive behavioural therapy, parents who have corporally punished or encountered difficulties in disciplining their children can explore the reasons for their emotional outbursts together. Parents can learn about their emotions and identify their most susceptible pressure points, as well as examining their serial reactions experienced from the beginning to the actual occurrence of their outbursts.


“I am only venting my own emotions.”

During the sixth or seventh session of one of the groups, a parent participant expressed, “I now try my best not to beat my child and would rather leave whenever I cannot hold back…I have a feeling that I probably beat him only for venting my own emotions, nothing to do for him.” Project social worker Ms. Manki Wong recalled that, after that sharing, other parents also looked embarrassed, as if the hidden truth has been exposed. The sharing marks the revelation journey experienced by parents in the group and that moment has left Ms. Wong a very vivid impression.

 

The group also encourages parents to re-evaluate their inherent view on their children’s behaviours. For instance, some parents complain about their child’s lie-in in the morning and procrastination of doing homework, claiming these behaviours as “declaring opposition.” To guide the discussion, social worker in the group would ask – is there any concrete evidence to support such conclusion? Are there other possible reasons for your child’s behaviours? Is it simply because he is exhausted?

 

“While most people tend to focus and exaggerate the inappropriate behaviours itself, we believe that every move of a child has a reason. Why would they procrastinate when it comes to homework time? Has the reason behind been dealt with? To practise positive discipline, a children need to feel the eagerness of his/her mum and dad to understand and accept them unconditionally,” explains project social worker Ms. Kennis Cheng. “Parents often change their perception of their child once having acquired a new perspective, thus respond differently towards the child’s behaviours.”


Implementing the Concept of Collaboration

Members of the group are also capable of influencing each other. A parent once said, “No good child without beating.” Another parent in the group responded instantly, “I have been beating my child since he was small. He is now in primary six. He does not only know how to fight back, but also learn to leave the house. Beating is of no use.” Therefore, in hopes of enhancing mutual inspiration and collaboration, project social workers tend to arrange parents of different age ranges in the same group on occasions.

 

Some members of the group are referred from various service units of the centre, whilst some are recruited from schools. School teachers would recommend parents who have encountered difficulties in disciplining or have performed corporal punishment on their children. Schools would also refer children who have experienced corporal punishment or emotionally disturbed by family to issues therapeutic groups for children.

 

Some children demonstrate their destructive power when they first join the group and some even threaten, “Don’t you believe I will beat you up?” Given such tendency for violence, their daily lives are not beyond imagination. Social workers would help these psychologically bruised children to learn about their own emotions and rebuild their self-esteem. For instance, children are encouraged to give credits to their own strengths and appreciate their groupmates after every session.

 

                                              

 

The child’s dreamcatcher bears all

sorts of fantasies and wonders. Having a

dream is also a source of self-esteem.

 

                                                                                                                                       

  

“What? You don’t tell people off?”

“A lot of kids are subjected to caning once they get home; some are greeted by the most despicable insults from their loved ones.

 

These children render themselves useless and feel inadequate or even hostile to others. Many of them are disorientated and insecure about joining the group – do I have to join the group because I am problematic? Will the social workers yell at me?” Ms. Wong recalls, “A primary three or four child in the group was startled, ‘What? You don’t tell people off?’ Basically no one has complimented him throughout all these years - it is heart-breaking.” This boy is one of the most memorable cases for Ms. Wong. At first, he behaved rather hostile against others in the group, but later on expressed his desire to be next year’s class prefect.

 

In addition to the therapeutic groups, the Treatment Corner has introduced the “Volunteer Home Visitation Service for Families with Newborn” in the mid of last year. Volunteers with parenting experience are recruited for visits to expectant mothers who are at least twenty-four weeks pregnant, as well as families with babies aged under one year old. Project social worker Ms. Becky Wong points out that the birth of a child often turns the world of new mother and father upside down. Apart from the emotion effects resulted from the fluctuating hormone levels before and after pregnancy, new parents need to adjust themselves to a new mode of family life and couple relationship. The experienced volunteers can hopefully reassure new parents and, in celebration of the arrival of a new life, share with them tips for positive discipline and lay a foundation for a happy family.

 

After all, prevention is better than cure and the same goes for issues of child abuse.