Proposed penalty for failing to report suspected child abuse cases ‘a slap on the wrist’

Lawmakers on Monday raised concerns that the proposed penalty for failing to report suspected child-abuse cases would be “a slap on the wrist.”

This came as Secretary for Labour and Welfare Chris Sun Yuk-han said in the Legco today that the government targets to submit a bill on mandatory reporting of suspected child-abuse cases in the first half of 2023.

The proposed law will require "children-facing" workers - including teachers, social workers and medics - to report suspected abuse to authorities. Those who fail to do so may face up to three months in jail and a HK$50,000 fine.

Responding to lawmakers’ concerns, Sun said the proposed law targets professionals, whereas the penalty of three months imprisonment is the same as other “failure to report crimes” offenses.

He said those required to report the suspected cases have their professional qualification on the line if they failed to do so, in which “imprisonment for them would not be simply spending time in jail, but also risking their career.”

He added that “a day’s imprisonment would already be too much for them.”

However, DAB lawmaker Elizabeth Quat Pei-fan pointed out that the penalty for financial crimes is much harsher, which also covers professionals in the industry.

She said people as professionals should be subject to more serious criminal liability should they choose to neglect the suspected cases, while the harsh punishment would also serve as a deterrent factor.

Meanwhile, Roundtable lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun didn't side with Sun’s view that a short jail term would serve well offenders who are professionals.

He said if professionals were only handed a short jail term while youngsters who committed crimes nowadays were sentenced to years in jail, it would give an impression to citizens that they were classified into “different levels” when brought against justice.