Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture Alexis Tam Chon Weng said Monday he had “zero tolerance” for sexual abuse of children as well as domestic violence against children, adding that “there shouldn’t even be one case”.
Tam made the remarks while speaking to reporters after a regular meeting of the government-appointed Women and Children Affairs Committee at the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau (DSEJ).
He said that the government was “angry” and “condemns” the alleged sexual abuse cases at the private D. Jose da Costa Nunes Kindergarten, which is owned and run by the Macanese Education Promotion Association (APIM), in Avenida de Sidonio Pais.
Customarily, the term “Macanese” denotes Macau’s Eurasian community.
The Portuguese-language newspaper daily Hoje Macau broke the news last week, when it reported that two children at the kindergarten had been allegedly sexually abused by a staff member. Their parents filed police reports last Tuesday.
The suspect, a 26-year-old Filipino worker whose work reportedly included taking care of the kindergarten pupils’ hygiene, has been suspended by the kindergarten’s management since the parents’ reported the alleged abuse, according to local media reports.
The male worker, described by a statement by the Public Prosecution Office (MP) last week as a “kindergarten assistant”, was reportedly tasked with wiping pupils’ genitals and buttocks, irrespective of their gender, after they urinated or defecated in the kindergarten’s toilet.
In a regular press conference on Friday, Judiciary Police (PJ) spokesman Ho Chan Nam said that the Judiciary Police had received three separate reports from parents who suspected that their daughters had been sexually abused by the suspect.
Referring to the investigation, Ho noted on Friday that the results of preliminary medical examinations did not detect any evidence that the three girls had been sexually abused. However, he noted that the suspect might have touched the girls’ genitals while he was alone with them, adding that the kindergarten didn’t appear to have clear instructions for how employees should take care of pupils’ personal hygiene.
The Public Prosecution Office said in a statement on Saturday that the suspect was facing sexual abuse of children charges in accordance with Article 166 and Article 172 of the Macau Penal Code, the latter article referring to victims under the age of 12. If found guilty, the suspect faces a prison term of one to 8 years.
The statement noted that the suspect has been released on his own recognisance and ordered to regularly report to the police.
According to The Macau Post Daily the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau (DSEJ) last week ordered the kindergarten to hand in a report on the matter by Thursday, saying that it would afterwards investigate whether anybody at the kindergarten should be held responsible for the incidents.
Tam Monday confirmed that the kindergarten received at least one complaint from a parent about suspected sexual abuse in October, adding that the kindergarten failed to report the alleged incident to the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau.
“Any experienced management of a school [education institution] ought to know that this kind of incident [sexual abuse] shouldn’t happen. In case it does happen, it should be reported to the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau…any school should know this,” Tam said.
When asked by a reporter to clarify whether the kindergarten had received one or several complaints in October, Tam said that he didn’t know as the kindergarten didn’t report the matter to the bureau at that time. He told the reporters to ask the kindergarten.
Tam said that the kindergarten should have reported this kind of incident to the bureau immediately in October. He said that’s the way it should be handled by all education institutions.
He noted that after receiving the report from the kindergarten on Thursday, the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau would conduct an investigation before releasing its findings as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, DSEJ Deputy Director Leong Wai Kei was asked by the media whether she thought that it’s appropriate for a male worker to wash kindergarten children, she said her bureau would discuss the matter with education institutions in the near future.
Asked by The Macau Post Daily about the number of reports about alleged sexual abuse that her bureau had received from parents of D. Jose da Costa Nunes Kindergarten pupils, Leong declined to answer, saying that it was “inappropriate” to reveal the figure as every report was different.
Also asked by The Macau Post Daily whether she thought the delay in reporting the suspected sexual abuse cases at the kindergarten had damaged local parents’ confidence in the city’s kindergartens in general, Leong did not reply. However, she was quick to add that everyone has got subjective feelings. Leong stressed that she understands why parents are concerned about the issue. However, Leong said that parents whose children attend other kindergartens shouldn’t be too worried.
Leong made the remarks after attending yesterday’s Women and Children Affairs Committee meeting at the bureau.
Meanwhile, according to a report by local government-owned broadcaster TDM’s Chinese language channel, lawmaker Agnes Lam Iok Feng held a press conference in her office in the city centre with parents of the alleged victims.
During the conference, Lam said that nine parents suspected that their children were sexually abused at D. Jose da Costa Nunes Kindergarten, with seven of them having already reported their suspicions to the police. She said that two of the cases had not been reported to the police because the parents worried that it could lead to their children’s “secondary victimisation” during the investigation process.
Meanwhile, during a press conference by the Judiciary Police (PJ) yesterday, PJ spokeswoman Lei Hon Nei confirmed that seven alleged cases at the kindergarten had been reported by parents to the Judiciary Police until yesterday, involving seven alleged victims. Lei said that four of them had already been questioned by the police.
D. Jose da Costa Nunes Kindergarten, according to data on the DSEJ website, had 224 pupils attending K1 to K3 classes as of November last year.