According to new government statistics in Hong Kong, the number of cases of sexual abuse against children last year had its biggest jump nine years of available public data. In 2012, 336 children were abused, and for the first half of this year, officials have already registered more than half that figure, or 183 cases.
Why the increase? “One possible reason is the popularity of social networking websites on the internet where children are susceptible to sexual abuse pitfalls,” a government spokeswoman told the Wall Street Journal (paywall).
In Western internet markets like the US, social media platforms have worked to ward off accusations that their sites enable child predators. In Hong Kong, few have studied the connection between social media usage and child sex abuse (or CSA, in social work parlance). Moreover, government regulation of child abuse is relatively new in Hong Kong, where Chinese parents have traditionally held almost total authority over family affairs. Cases of CSA were rarely reported or pursued before the 1990s, when the city state passed laws to make convictions easier and began building a stronger child protective services. (Corporal punishment was also outlawed in schools around this time.)
Today, the city state has some of the highest rates of internet, social media and smart phone usage in the world. Popular media are Facebook, Twitter, Sina Weibo, and BBS forums. Hong Kongers use instant messenger, like Skype or Microsoft MSN messenger more than their counterparts in the rest of Asia.
The CSA rate appears to be low in Hong Kong compared to other countries, but the number of cases is growing. The number of CSA cases in Hong Kong has almost doubled from 189 incidents in 2004 to 2012’s 336 cases. A study of 2,147 Hong Kong children in 2002 found that 6% reported having been abused. By comparison, in the US, as many as 20% of girls and 5% of boys have been sexually abused, according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center. In Hong Kong, sexual abuse is the second most common type of abuse so far this year (after physical abuse).