On 11 April 2004, Hong Kong was shocked by the Tin Shui Wai family tragedy in which a woman and her two daughters were stabbed to death. How social workers and the police handled family violence cases were brought into question. One can imagine the stress and guilt of the professionals involved in this case but the public queries were justified. Life is very precious. Every frontline worker involved in handling cases of domestic violence should gear our best efforts to work for the safety of family members. What can we learn from this tragedy? Our Family Networks, as an Integrated Family Services Centre, is re-examining our practice and developing internal guidelines so as to enhance our sensitivity and handling of family violence cases in the future.
Tin Shui Wai family tragedy reflected policy flaws and inadequacies. As pointed out by the women's group, if our society is to uphold "zero tolerance" on family violence as proclaimed by the government, we need to review the direction and content of our family policy and services. We also need a commitment on resources to provide women with the ability to leave abusive relationships when they choose to do so.
Another system issue is about reforming the law relating to family violence. Hong Kong's "Domestic Violence Ordinance" (DVO) came into force in 1986. There has been no review on or amendments to DVO during these 18 years. Hong Kong Christian Service joined the Concern Group on Domestic Violence that comprised of 12 social services sectors with professionals and legislators in September 2003 to examine the existing legislative provisions and identify possible areas of improvement related to the DVO. Soon after the suggested amendments were drafted, the tragedy occurred. The advocacy work for change had to speed up.
The Joint Concern Group expressed their views in the Joint meeting of the LegCo Panel on Welfare Service and Panel on Security on 26 April. To strengthen protection for victims of domestic violence, they called on the Government to consider the following suggested amendments to the Domestic Violence Ordinance:
- Expand the definition of family members from spouses, cohabitants and children under 18, to former spouses, former cohabitants and other family members who reside together, etc.
- Clearly define family violence to include not only physical abuse but also psychological abuse, sexual violence, abandonment and neglect of a family member who is incapable to look after himself or herself.
- Empower the Director of Social Welfare or a person appointed by him to act as a temporary guardian of victims who are abandoned or neglected by abusers.
- Extend the maximum validity of injunction order up to 18 months to dovetail the corresponding matrimonial or guardianship proceedings.
- Permit a third party to apply for an injunction for a victim provided that the victim was aware of the application; to introduce the element of "mandatory counseling" for the abusers as an alternative to imprisonment.
- Examine the possibility of including provisions on prohibition against stalking behaviours.
On 31 May, the Joint Concern Group held separate meetings with Ms. Elsie Leung, Secretary for Justice, and Mr. Paul Tang, Director of Social Welfare. In the meeting with Mr. Paul Tang, officials from Social Welfare Department, Health, Welfare and Food Bureau and the Police were also present. Although there was no commitment to implement the above suggestions, some officials were open-minded in considering legislative amendments.
We hope that the Government would consider carefully the community's views, study overseas experience in this area and implement measures as soon as possible to enhance the prevention and intervention of family violence.