A tragedy that could have been averted

Editorial | Jan 9, 2018
It's sickening that five-year-old girl Chan Sui-lam was subjected to so much brutality near the end of her short life, and how the incident had slipped through the safety net despite early warnings.

And that her father and stepmother are charged with murder is equally appalling.

However, this doesn't spare others - including the Social Welfare Department and schools concerned - from blame. Their reportedly half-hearted handling of the case may have contributed to the death of "Lam Lam."

Police said the girl's body was covered in old and new bruises believed to have been caused by a rattan cane, scissors and flip flops. Lam Lam was already lifeless when rushed to Tuen Mun Hospital on Saturday, after she was found unconscious by her step-grandmother, who has since been arrested for child abuse.

Extensive injuries were also reported to have been found all over the dead girl's eight-year-old brother.

This is among the most sickening cases of child abuse in recent memory, and cannot be tolerated. I trust justice will be served and punishment meted out to those responsible for the death of the malnourished and defenseless five-year-old.

Equally intolerable is how the authorities had allowed the incident to slip through the cracks. Why did the system failed? Is it because of a lack of vigilance on the front-lines? Or has the system be reduced to a level of inertia or insensitivity due to overwhelming caseloads?

According to the school where Lam Lam's brother studies, teachers discovered bruises on his back in November, and the case was immediately brought to the attention of the welfare department via a social worker.

But SWD said the school merely "consulted" it, and didn't refer the boy's case after the consultation. In other words, it would be silly to ask whether the department had opened a file at all.

It seems to suggest that as far as SWD was concerned, the matter was closed after the "consultation." I'm confident that if the social worker's report of suspected abuse hadn't vanished into a sea of red tape, the current tragedy would have been averted.

The boy's injuries were apparently so obvious, and if the school's report had prompted enough interest for the SWD to visit the family, they would have easily spotted the wounds on the five-year-old girl and changed the course of events.

It's mind-boggling that such a case could simply disappear half-way. Those involved seemed too ready to be content.

The chain of action was broken somewhere, somehow. The school said it had referred the case to the SWD's crack unit in charge of family and child protective services. However, did the school care enough to follow up on what the department had done with the referral after not having heard back since?

It was about the well-being of one of its students.

Meanwhile, welfare department officials deny the case had been referred to them, although the department had been consulted.

Could one side - or both - be lying?

The buck-passing between the school and SWD is cold-blooded - without callous disregard for life.

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December 2018