I am writing to express my concern about the increasing number of incidents of children being left unattended at home by their parents. Besides stating the causes of the problem, I will also give some suggestions on how similar incidents can be avoided.
Each individual child abuse case may have its different causes, but mainly three categories of the causes can be identified – money problem, parents’ character problem and lastly, the insufficient support from the local community and neighbours.
The vast majority of the parents being accused of leaving children alone at home is from the grass roots. This is understandable because parents from the grass roots have to work all day out to make ends meet. Unlike the rich who can employ a maid to take care of their kids, low-income parents can only leave their children at home when working if they cannot seek help from their neighbours. Nowadays, facing low wages and rising cost of living, parents from the low-income group have to take part-time jobs and hence reduce their time to care about their children. To cut costs, some companies extend working hours. Such practice further exploits parents’ time to be spent on their kids. As parents of the working class are out all day long and cannot generate a high income, they can hardly create a hygienic condition and leave a lot of money for their kids to buy food when they are out. This leads to cases about children being left alone at home in poor hygienic condition and without food.
Some child negligence cases happen because of their parents’ characters. Nowadays, there are more single parents who are just in their early twenties. These youngsters are mostly unprepared to have babies. Usually they are forced to become parents after having unprotected sex. For this reason, these single parents are not mature enough to take care of their children. They may continue to have their wayward lifestyles and leave their kids unattended. Additionally, some of these single parents blame their kids for destroying their future careers. They therefore deliberately leave their children alone at home as a way to vent their anger. Some young couples are impatient when taking care of their children. When their children continue to cry, they feel annoyed and may even escape from their flats for days. This constitutes child abuse as they deliberately leave their kids at home.
Inadequate support from local community and neighbours to take care of children is another factor leading to child negligence. The childcare service is far from enough in Hong Kong. There are not enough childcare centres to cater to community needs. Neighbours are reluctant to help look after children for others because if there are any accidents, the neighbours may have to bear legal responsibility. Weakened relationship between neighbours also increases the chance of children being left alone at home as neighbours are less eager to help now.
There are different ways to resolve the problem despite the various causes. The government should foster the progress on the legislation of minimum wage and maximum working hours. These laws can help the working class to earn a living at an acceptable level. Parents can the have more time to spend with their kids. The problem of child negligence can be alleviated
Education is of great importance in resolving this problem. The government should educate the parents the importance of looking after their kids via television programmes and regular talks in different districts. There should be more talks in secondary schools to warn students the consequences of having sex too early. This can raise youngsters’ awareness of the issue. In the end, this can help reduce the chance of the emergence of single parents and young couples without much preparation for a baby.
Besides, the government should provide more funds to build more childcare centres or to extend the opening hours of schools. Parents can leave their children in childcare centres or schools for longer hours instead of leaving them alone at home without care.
Lastly, parents should take the initiative to seek help from neighbours or childcare centres when they need to go out. This can alleviate the problem. Usually such cases of leaving children alone at home happen at night when parents suddenly have to deal with some urgent matters. The government should then set up a 24-hour hotline to assist these parents. With such service, the number of incidents of child negligence can be lowered.
If the government, community and parents jointly work together, it can make a huge difference to the problem. Hopefully, the government can take the first step to deal with the problem.