Hong Kong authorities have made multiple arrests in a case involving the death of a five-year-old girl. The victim's father and stepmother have been arrested and charged with murder and step-grandmother detained after medical examiners discovered bruises all over the child's body.
The girl — whose surname was Chan — was reportedly discovered in an unconscious state by her step-grandmother, on Saturday (6 January) at the family apartment at Trend Plaza, Tuen Mun. She was rushed to Tuen Mun Hospital but was declared dead on arrival.
"We found many abnormal and suspicious bruises and wounds on her. Almost all over her body. The wounds were both small and large in sizes. The small ones were around 1 to 2cm long, while the others could be as big as 10cm across," chief inspector Chan Yan told South China Morning Post.
"Some wounds were old and had scabs, but there were more wounds that were new. Some old wounds were rotten and did not heal," he added to The Standard.
The death has triggered an attack on the Social Welfare Department's Family and Child Protective Services which had not looked into the domestic matter earlier despite receiving a tip about child abuse in the home. According to Yvonne Siu Lai-shan, principal of Hing Tak School, the girl's eight-year-old brother showed signs of abuse back in November 2017.
"Our teacher found unusual signs with the child, around November 6 or 7, and we immediately handled the issue," Siu said, noting that the bruises were visible on his arms when the boy wore short-sleeved shirts.
A spokesperson for the Social Welfare Department claims that while it was consulted about the situation, they had never formally handled the boy's case. "The department, after [learning of the girl's death], has sent social workers to contact the other two young children in the family involved," he said. "We will provide proper services and care for their welfare."
Chan revealed that on a visit to the family home, police found the boy with multiple bruises, swellings and wounds "almost all over his body".
"The health status of the deceased girl and her brother was apparently very bad. I would describe them as being malnourished compared with other kids of the same age," he added.
The victim had reportedly been pulled out of kindergarten two months prior to her death.
Authorities are waiting on the results of the autopsy to confirm the cause of death but, plan to pursue the case as a murder investigation. The father, a delivery worker for an electric appliance chain, and the stepmother, a housewife, have been named as the main suspects behind the death.
Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung said that the department agents should have paid more attention to the matter when it was first brought to their notice.
"After the case was referred to them, the Social Welfare Department should have followed it up by themselves. It's possible the SWD might have found the case not that serious and passed it to integrated family service centers," he said.
"The family is high risk as both parents had divorced before, and the victim had language impairment, meaning there should have been follow-ups."