Harsh penalties sought against women and child abuse in Macau

Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) [Hong Kong]

March 13, 2024

By UCA News reporter

The rise in cases of violence against women and children showed more victims have had the courage to seek help, activist says

A leading women’s rights group in Macau has called on the authorities to introduce tougher punishments to tackle rising number of cases of violence against women and children in the region.

Macau should “strengthen the deterrent effect” to ensure safety of women and children from violence including raising the limit of maximum sentence, removing the provision of suspended sentence, and reviewing the execution of coercive measures, said Loi I Weng, vice-president of the Women’s Association in a press statement.

Loi also demanded more comprehensive support for victims of domestic violence, Portuguese language daily Ponto Final reported on March 13.

She said that an increase in number of cases of violence against women and children showed that more victims have dared to seek help, however, “prevention and deterrence are always the best way” to solve the problem.

A total of 36 cases of sexual abuse of children were registered last year, a rise of 33 percent compared to 2022, according to government data. In 2019, only 11 cases were recorded.

In addition, the authorities recorded 129 cases of domestic violence based on complaints made by victims last year.

“Existing laws and administrative measures must be reviewed in a timely manner, and try to increase the deterrent effect of these crimes, as well as improve support and protection for victims,” said Loi, who is also a member of state-run Council for Women and Children’s Affairs.

She said that legal support to prevent and combat domestic violence “encouraged more victims to stop being silent,” but “there are still some victims who report that due to financial and housing problems, or because they were full-time family caregivers for a long period of time, the financial power of the attacker was the reason they were unable to report the case.” 

Some victims reported that they fear revengeful behavior from the aggressor even if they file a complaint with the police and seek help.

To prevent and combat domestic violence and to help victims speak out, the government and community service institutions should cooperate to offer more assistance, both psychologically and financially, to the victims, and ensure they can gradually return to a normal life, Loi said.

The government reviewed and revised the Penal Code in 2017 to introduce strict penalties for sexual crimes against children, she noted, but asked the authorities to review why the changes failed to curb child abuse.

A child abuser faces 1-5 years imprisonment under Macau’s Penal Code. The law criminalizes domestic violence warranting up to five years jail.

“The review was seven years ago, and the number of cases has not seen a significant decrease,” Loi said.

“It must be emphasized that the psychological damage caused to victims of sexual assault is often long-lasting or even permanent. Raising awareness about reporting is just one part of protecting minors, prevention is the best practice to safeguard children’s safety,” she warned.

Macau, a former Portuguese colony and now a China-ruled territory, has an estimated population of 700,000 on the 33 square kilometer island.