Domestic Violence Cases Rising in Hong Kong

There has been a sharp increase in reports of domestic violence in Hong Kong in recent months, some ending in death. Social workers are worried about the trend and increased calls for changes to the city's domestic violence law. Maggie Cheng has written this report from Hong Kong, voiced by Heda Bayron.

In March, a Hong Kong woman attacked her husband with a knife after she suspected him of having an affair. In November, a man stabbed to death his ex-wife and two daughters after a difficult divorce.

Hong Kong Police say domestic violence cases more than doubled in the first three months of the year to 1,780. About a third of the cases were considered criminal. Last year, domestic violence cases rose nearly 80 percent from 2005.

Margaret Wong, executive director of Harmony House, a charity that helps families affected by domestic violence, says her organization has seen a rise in requests for help and shelter over the past year.

She says some of the new cases involve migrants from mainland China, especially women who married Hong Kong men. Wong says some immigrants find it hard to adapt to Hong Kong's lifestyle and they do not know where to seek help.

"The other reason is the unbalanced role between man and woman in a family," She says. "The Chinese have a traditional view that women are subordinate to men, so men may think it is reasonable to use violence to solve problems when there are arguments between couples. Other external factors like gambling, unemployment and alcohol abuse also lead to more family arguments."

Government figures show that women are most often the victims in spousal battery cases.

Rights and social workers have called on the government to amend the city's domestic violence law to better protect families by expanding coverage to divorced couples, the elderly and unmarried partners living together. They also want court injunctions against abusers to be extended from three months to up to two years.

The government is expected to present legislation to change the law later this year.

While awaiting the legal changes, some Hong Kong women are taking matters into their own hands. In Tin Shui Wai, a low-income neighborhood on the outskirts of Hong Kong, a group of 40 housewives started a neighborhood watch against domestic violence. The group, Star Bright, was formed after one of the city's worst cases of family violence in recent years - two years ago a man killed his wife, their two young children and then himself.

Harmony House social workers, such as Heidi Ip, assist the group.

Ip says she hopes the program would empower women, help them maintain a harmonious relationship within their families, and help each other.

In Hong Kong families often live in small apartments in high-rise buildings with little chance for neighborly exchanges.

Social worker Alan Leung from the Catholic charity, Caritas, says many cases that end up in tragedy usually have already been taken up by social workers. But he says social workers are not able to monitor families all the time.

He says too often those who recognize problems in a family are not social workers, but their neighbors. Leung adds that the government should publicize the importance of helping neighbors and neighbors themselves should encourage the families in need to seek help from social workers.

This year the government has earmarked an additional four million dollars to improve family welfare and support services to victims of domestic violence.