by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Brian Hioe

OVER 1,000 DEMONSTRATED on Ketagalan Boulevard on Saturday, to call for better protections for children. Many participants were parents with their children. The rally took place in spite of periodic rain, with large tents set up on Ketagalan Boulevard

The rally was organized by the Taiwan Children’s Rights Association in response to the public outcry that followed the death of a one-year-old child, referred to as “Kai Kai” in public discourse, because of abuse from a caregiver. The death occurred in December, though there was not an outcry until the death was more widely reported on in March.

Photo credit: Brian Hioe

“Kai Kai” was put up for adoption through the Child Welfare League Foundation after his mother was arrested and his grandfather asked that he be put up for adoption. A licensed in-home childcare provider was contracted to take care of him, who was originally licensed in October 2022.

Initial responses initially pinned blame on a social worker for failing to have adequately investigate the case to realize that child abuse was ongoing, or for potentially having falsified paperwork. That the social worker in question, surnamed “Chen”, was subject to a “perp walk” by police and had her personal information reported on by the press led to anger from social workers, who criticized how the response from the Tsai administration was to increase the workload on social workers who are already overworked.

In particular, the Tsai administration suggested that it would increase the frequency of visitation from social workers for children in care. The Tsai administration also stated that it may increase standards for qualifying to be a childcare provider, increasing training from the current 126 hours required before providing childcare services and 18 hours of on-the-job training required each year, which is six to ten hours per year for those who have not looked after a child in a year but who are licensed.

As such, the rally on Saturday primarily called for more systematic measures to protect children, but largely avoided specific criticisms of groups. There were some calls for stricter punishments as a deterrent to abuse from caregivers. Parents and children were called on to be more attentive to potential signs of abuse. However, greater emphasis was placed not on punitive measures that would be too late to prevent tragedies and only seek to carry out punishments for tragedies that had already taken place, but on a stronger safety net and child welfare that would prevent such tragedies from occurring to begin with.

Photo credit: Brian Hioe

Indeed, there has been a failure to examine some of the root causes of cases of child abuse in Taiwan to date. Namely, corporal punishment of children continues to take place, at the hands of parents or caregivers, and within educational institutions. This has been a major contributor to child deaths such as those of “Kai Kai.”

A 2022 incident in which a seven-year-old student practicing judo died from a brain hemorrhage after being body-slammed a total of 27 times by his instructor and other students, making international headlines, likely proves to be the most high-profile injury or death caused by corporal punishment in recent years.

Other cases of note involve the death of a five-year-old child at a care facility in Taoyuan, where a six-year-old child also suffered brain damage. The care facility is for children with mental or physical disabilities. The five-year-old child who died, who was surnamed Fang and was autistic, was shaken violently in the head and had tape placed around his neck. This led to the child rolling on the floor in pain for over twenty minutes, while biting his fingers and hitting his head. He died the next day, after his parents noticed his injuries after taking him home.

Photo credit: Brian Hioe

The six-year-old child who suffered brain damage, who was surnamed Wu, was tied to a chair during an epileptic episode that lasted for three hours, rather than being treated or taken to the hospital. As a result, she later fell into a coma, causing her to sustain permanent brain damage.

Still, while the rally on Saturday struck the note of calling for systemic reform and preventative measures, many of the proposals from lawmakers to date have, in fact, been moreso in the direction of calling for an increase in punishment for cases of child abuse. The KMT legislative caucus presently calls for capital punishment to be used against child abuse. It is to be seen if this is a call that gains traction among the general public.

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