LCQ4: Child suicide

     Following is a question by the Hon Cheung Man-kwong and a reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (January 11):


     The spate of student suicides which occurred one after another recently, with the youngest student involved being only 10 years old, has aroused concerns in various sectors of the community.  According to the statistics compiled by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention of the University of Hong Kong ("CSRP"), two to five children aged below 15 took their own lives in each of the years between 2005 and 2009 in Hong Kong.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the number of suicide cases in the past five years which involved persons aged below 18, as well as the age profile of such persons and the possible causes of suicide involved;

(b) whether it has focused on the trend of people committing suicide at a young age and conducted follow-up investigations into the suicide cases involving persons aged below 18, analysed the reasons why they committed suicide and taken preventive measures; if it has, how the Government assesses the recent cases of student suicide; if not, of the reasons for that; and

(c) given that CSRP's statistical analysis indicated that excessive examination pressure was a major risk factor for student suicide, whether the Government has reviewed the existing education and examination system and strived to reduce the study pressure on students; if it has, how the Government explains why recently, there were several cases of students suspected to have committed suicides due to study pressure; if not, of the reasons for that; given that CSRP also conducted a research on the "Suicidality among Secondary School Students in Hong Kong", whether the Government will commission CSRP to conduct similar survey on primary school students with regard to the several suicide cases involving primary school students which occurred recently, so as to explore ways to lower the suicide rate for children effectively?


Acting President,

     My reply to Hon Cheung Man-kwong's question is as follows:

(a) According to the latest information provided by the Census and Statistics Department (C&SD), the numbers of known suicide deaths involving persons aged below 18 each year between 2006 and 2010, broken down into age groups, are as follows:

Age       2006    2007    2008    2009    2010
0-4         -       -       -       -       -
5-9         -       -       1       -       -
10-14       2       5       4       3       6
15-17      12       5       8       9      11
Total      14      10      13      12      17

     C&SD does not have statistics on the causes of these suicide death cases.

(b) The Social Welfare Department (SWD) launched a pilot project in February 2008 to review child death cases.  The Review Panel of the Pilot Project on Child Fatality Review (the Review Panel) was set up to examine the practice and service issues pertaining to child death cases, and promote inter-disciplinary and inter-agency co-operation to prevent avoidable child death cases.  The Review Panel comprises non-official members, including healthcare professionals, parents, academia, lawyers and social services providers.

     Altogether 209 death cases involving children aged below 18 which occurred in 2006 and 2007 and had been reported to the Coroner were reviewed under the pilot project.  Of the 209 cases, 24 were suicide cases.  Among the 24 cases, the most common reason (could have more than one reason for each case) for child suicide, as identified in the investigation report of the Police, was family relationship problems (11 cases), followed by schooling problems (7 cases).  Relationship problems involving boyfriends/girlfriends (5 cases) was the third most common reason.  Other reasons include mental problems and health problems, etc.

     The Review Panel made 16 specific recommendations to reduce the number of child suicide cases through enhancing identification of and assistance to children with suicidal intent, strengthening support for children facing academic or other problems and stepping up public education.

     The Review Panel released its Final Report on the Pilot Project in January 2011, and the Administration briefed the Legislative Council Panel on Welfare Services on the same in February 2011.  Subsequently, the Administration established a standing child fatality review mechanism and appointed the Child Fatality Review Panel to continue to review child fatality cases which occurred in 2008 and beyond.

     Furthermore, studies have also revealed that suicide risks may be higher in some districts and there is a possibility of the emergence of suicide clusters (including those among young people).  Hence, with funding support from the Lotteries Fund, SWD commissioned the Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention of the University of Hong Kong (CSRP) in June 2011 to implement a pilot project on community-based intervention to suicide (the pilot project) in the North District and its surrounding areas.   The three-year pilot project, launched in July 2011, targets mainly at youths aged 15 to 24 as well as persons with suicidal tendency in the local communities.  Awareness of suicide prevention at the community level will be raised through public education and publicity, and the efficacy of various suicide prevention measures will be examined.  With the application of a Geographic Information System for analysing and identifying areas and clusters with higher suicide risks, community-based collaborative networks will be set up to mobilise community resources in the provision of targeted educational, supportive and counselling services for the vulnerable to prevent suicide.  We will maintain close liaison with the research team and follow up on the outcome of the pilot project.

(c) Research studies on suicide show that the causes of suicide are complex and involve multiple factors, including a person¡¦s biological, psychological and cognitive conditions, as well as environmental factors.  These factors interact with each other, and no single or isolated factor could be held responsible.  In its report on "Suicidality among Secondary School Students in Hong Kong", CSRP stated that "evidence based research indicated that suicide is caused by multiple interactions of many different suicidal risk factors.  That is why we cannot say that a school or a particular academic environment directly leads to suicide."

     The Government is very concerned about youth suicide.  Hon Mr Cheung mentioned about examination pressure, citing the statistics of CSRP.  According to our understanding, apart from "severity of distress by daily life aspect", CSRP also sets out in the report a host of factors which are significantly associated with adolescent suicidal ideation, including "serious interpersonal conflicts with family members", "chronic illness or pain" and "influence by reporting on suicide".  Causes of suicide are complex and multi-dimensional.  On the issue of suicide, the Education Bureau (EDB) is of the view that their priority of work should focus on prevention and support.  EDB is actively discussing with CSRP plans for further collaboration.

     Hon Mr Cheung asked whether the Government has reviewed the existing education and examination system and strived to reduce the study pressure on students.  Indeed, there are many factors that may bring stress to students.  Apart from studies and examinations, stress may also come from students' excessive demands on themselves, or attitudes and expectations of schools, teachers or parents towards them.  To alleviate the study pressure on students, EDB has clearly stated in its curriculum documents that curriculum, teaching strategy and assessment are inseparable.  We encourage schools to focus on assessment for learning and conduct assessments as part of the daily learning and teaching activities, so as to avoid spending too much time on unnecessary tests and examinations.

     For students, school-based assessment should be encouragement-oriented.  For teachers, assessment should be a feedback tool through which teaching can address students' needs in a more targeted manner, so as to enhance teaching efficacy.  Besides, EDB's curriculum documents and School Administration Guide have also provided guidelines on homework, stating that the quality of homework is more important than the quantity.  We also encourage students to utilise their spare time by acquiring learning experiences in non-academic areas, including moral and civic education, community service, and various kinds of arts and sports activities to broaden their horizons.

     Since 2009, EDB has, in collaboration with the Hong Kong Association of Career Masters and Guidance Masters, provided professional support to schools, developed many learning resources and organised workshops to help teachers promote career planning for students, encourage them to develop their own goals and reflect on themselves, so that students will have reasonable self-expectations.  We hope that students, through the process of self-understanding, can identify their own interests, abilities and potentials, map out their way forward and foster a positive attitude towards life.

Ends/Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Issued at HKT 15:32