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Domestic violence climbs in Hong Kong

Wednesday, 9 August 2006 - 9:48pm IST | Agency: Reuters

Cases of abuse within families have tripled between 1998 and 2005. Police figures for the first half of this year show a 31 per cent jump.

HONG KONG: Ah Lin boarded a train from mainland China to Hong Kong six years ago with her four-year-old son to begin a new life with her Hong Kong husband. But instead of joy and prosperity, her life became filled with near-daily physical abuse.

“He kept getting angry at us,” she said. “Then he began beating our son with a bamboo feather duster and poking his head with chopsticks.”

Her husband smashed appliances and chairs and once beat her son and herself till their arms were swollen and bruised.

It was after this last attack that she fled the tiny flat that had been home for little over a year to seek help. Ah Lin’s case is one of many in Hong Kong, where domestic violence is escalating.

Cases of abuse within families have tripled between 1998 and 2005. Police figures for the first half of this year show a 31 per cent jump compared with last year. Of the 719 cases reported, more than 500 involved serious assaults on women and children.   

In a recent case, a 52-year-old man slashed his daughter’s throat as she slept. He then attacked his mainland-born wife, before slitting his own throat and leaping to his death from a high-rise flat.

Days after that, a young mainland woman took a bite out of her mother-in-law’s nose during a scuffle, and then jumped 37 floors to her death. Of the 16 murders committed in Hong Kong so far this year, five were domestic homicides.

Women’s rights groups are calling for stronger laws to protect victims of domestic violence and will be presenting their case to the United Nations in New York on August 10.

A UN committee on the elimination of discrimination against women will scrutinise Hong Kong’s progress on this front, which critics say has been piecemeal at best.

Linda Wong, a member of local political group Civic Party who will attend the United Nations hearing, has criticised the government for failing to provide resources and support to abused women.

Nor has it heeded calls to set up a special court to streamline domestic violence proceedings and amend outdated laws to better protect victims and ensure prosecution of abusers, she said.

The government said improvements had been made in the past two years, including more funding to women’s shelters and hiring extra social workers.

But Edward Chan, an associate professor of social work at the University of Hong Kong, says the city lags places such as Taiwan, China and Singapore, which already have clear laws defining domestic violence as criminal acts.

He said most cases of spousal abuse in Hong Kong were treated by the police as little more than domestic discord.

Hong Kong society is being transformed by its increasing links with the mainland since the handover in 1997.

Every month, millions of passengers stream back and forth across the border separating the two sides by rail, road and sea, bringing a rich intermingling of the two populations.

The University of Hong Kong’s Social Work Department estimates there are now about 100,000 cross-border families in the city of just under 7 million. In most cases, it is Hong Kong men marrying mainland wives.

While many find happiness, factors such as culture shock, financial pressures and a significant age gap have put a strain on many of these marriages.

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