Legal update: Home alone in Hong Kong288月2018
At what age can children stay at home without parental supervision?
In Hong Kong there is no clear-cut rule identifying the age at which a minor child can remain in the home unsupervised.
Asia Times reported in January 2018 that a mother was arrested after leaving her three-year-old daughter at home alone. The school called the home to check on the girl but no one answered. When the child called back on the mobile that had been left in the house she reported that she was alone and scared. The school called the building management who checked on the child and then called the police who took the child to hospital for examination. Eventually the mother went to the police.
Section 27 of the Cap. 212 Offences against the Person Ordinance states that if anyone over 16 who is responsible for a child or young person “wilfully assaults, ill-treats, neglects, abandons or exposes such child … to be assaulted, ill-treated, neglected, abandoned or exposed in a manner likely to cause such child or young person unnecessary suffering or injury” is guilty of an offence. Reported cases involving this Ordinance typically concern serious child abuse or extreme neglect, so there is no guidance for the situation contemplated by this article.
The question of additional regulations came up ten years ago. According to the South China Morning Post in 2008, Labour and Welfare Secretary Matthew Cheung reported that there were 49 reports of children being left home alone for the prior three years with one of those cases involving a fatality. It was his view that there was no need for further legislation and that increased public education would solve the problem of parents leaving their young children unattended. Ten years on, there have been no major changes in the legislation.
So, there is no clear rule on when a child can be left home alone. It will be up to parents to determine whether their children are ready based on their physical age and mental maturity to begin taking more responsibility for themselves. This involves a good deal of communication with and around the child to establish clear boundaries and to ensure adherence with those restrictions.
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Disclaimer: This publication is general in nature and is not intended to constitute legal advice. You should seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters dealt with in this publication.