Jun 24, 2015

    HK can do more to save kids from high-rise falls

    ON JUNE 12, a three-year-old girl plunged to her death from the window of an eighth-floor apartment in Sham Shui Po, one of Hong Kong's oldest and poorer districts.

    It does not seem to be an isolated case. It came nine months after a two-year-old Nepali girl died after falling five stories from a building in Yau Ma Tei where, earlier this year, another kid - a four-year-old boy - miraculously survived after plummeting five stories from another building.

    Such tragedies are unfortunate and heartbreaking for the families involved, rich or poor. Common sense dictates that something has to be done immediately to prevent more of such incidents and to reassure parents that their children are adequately protected.

    In the incidents, the children's family members and a domestic helper were arrested for alleged cruelty, ill treatment or neglect of a child. But no matter how severe any punishment may be, it can never bring the children back to life.

    Apparently, at the time of the tragedies, the family members were busy with household chores, leaving the children unattended. In the case of the three-year-old girl, her grandmother had left the flat to hang laundry.

    It would not be too much to demand that the government consider providing a financial subsidy to families with children below six years of age, who are more likely to be left unattended and are not mature enough to realise the dangers lurking before them at home.

    In less well-off families that may not be able to afford domestic helpers, family members or caregivers might be too occupied with household chores to devote close attention to and care for young children.

    They might assume that children would realise the danger of climbing out a window, for instance. But the fact is that young children lack a sense of danger and could be sometimes driven by curiosity, leading to accidents.

    Telling families to install iron grilles for windows may sound simple, but that costs money and imposes a financial burden on poor families.

    The government can help such families with a two-pronged approach: subsidising the installation of home safety devices, or the hiring of part-time maids to keep a close eye on children at home.

    It might not cost the government much, but the subsidies would go a long way in helping to prevent young children, particularly those aged between two and four, from meeting the same fate as those in the three cases.

    Non-governmental agencies can also play a part by contributing to the subsidy pool, as can local universities, which have student groups dispatched to perform community work from time to time. These students would be doing society a big favour by helping less well-off families to look after their young children and instil a sense of safety in them.

    The key message is to save lives. If such awareness is promoted and raised, more lives can and will be saved.


    The writer is a veteran journalist and adjunct professor at Shue Yan University.