The Ministry of Education recently approved a draft law that would help reduce widespread social problems associated with improper child care and child abuse. Despite the good intentions behind the draft, there is good reason to feel pessimistic about the ability of the law to seriously address these problems.
This year is not even a month old and several incidents of serious child abuse -- some resulting in the deaths of young children -- have already been reported. Little wonder, then, that the government feels a great deal of pressure to take action.
The draft law stipulates that anyone who works as a babysitter or nanny will be required to be licensed and anyone who provides child care services without the proper license will be subjected to fines of between NT$60,000 and NT$300,000 for each violation.
In addition, if children under the care of a babysitter or nanny are less than two years old, the total number of children being cared for cannot exceed two. One babysitter or nanny will be allowed for three children between the ages of two and six.
While the draft law's imposition of fines is likely to add some teeth to licensing requirements, exactly who will fall within the regulated group could be a source of confusion and a loophole that could weaken its effectiveness.
Under the draft, nannies and babysitters are defined as anyone who provides child care services for a fee and who is not a close relative of the child being cared for or its parents. The law would not apply if a child's grandparent, uncle or aunt helps with its care, nor would it apply if a friend helps to care for the child without charging a fee.
In an increasing number of families, both parents work. Most families cannot afford the cost of child care -- especially licensed child care for very young children. The employment of foreign nannies is not an option for such families with pre-school children.
As a result, these families find that the cheapest and most convenient way to take care of their children is to ask for the free help of extended family members and friends.
Unfortunately, parents or other members of the household are sometimes the perpetrators of child abuse. This is especially the case for a single parent who is economically or socially disadvantaged and depends on a partner who is not the parent of the child in question. These parents often tolerate or even participate in child neglect or even abuse. The root causes of the abuse in these cases are social and economic in nature and they exist beyond the reach of the draft law.
Another issue the draft does not tackle is the lack of funding and resources for social workers. It has been repeatedly pointed out that the number of social workers in Taiwan is much too small to handle this serious social problem. Each social worker is severely overloaded with cases, with most averaging 30 to 40 cases at a time. It is no wonder that in many cases, opportunities are missed to give a helping hand to victimized children.
In this economically affluent and democratically advanced society, it is a shame that there are still so many young children who suffer from abuse. The law needs to address the social and economic causes of child abuse if the nation is to attack this problem with any credibility.