The tragic death of a 10-month-old baby on Tuesday, a few days after being thrown into a pot of boiling water by her father, has brought the issue of child abuse back into the public eye.
Reports of this case were quickly followed by news of a second child dying at the hands of her father on Tuesday evening, after allegedly being beaten to death with a broomstick.
These two deaths have created outrage and have helped focus attention on an issue that is all too often ignored.
Public anger at the two cases has brought about the predictable knee-jerk reaction from legislators, with Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chiu Yi (邱毅) proposing an amendment that would seek the death penalty or life imprisonment for individuals guilty of killing their children or grandchildren.
While legislators’ sense of duty to do something in the wake of such despicable acts is commendable, they must understand that handing down harsher penalties will not necessarily put an end to children suffering at the hands of their parents.
The two cases this week highlight the problem that laws or abuse prevention measures face: Neither family was included in the Ministry of the Interior’s at-risk families database.
The first killing happened in the heat of the moment during an argument and is the kind of thing that no law, however harsh the punishment, can prevent.
Contrast this with the other child, who died from a sustained beating that took place over the course of a day, and it is clear that with a more effective abuse reporting mechanism in place, this death could have been prevented.
Child abuse can take many forms and has many causes. There is no quick fix, but with effective monitoring networks in schools and communities, it should be possible to identify more at-risk children and remove them from their homes before another tragedy occurs.
The suggestion by legislators on Wednesday that local community leaders become responsible for reporting suspected cases of child abuse has its merits, but any changes in the law have to be accompanied by a sustained public education campaign telling parents that it is unacceptable to take out their frustrations on their children.
This message, along with information on how and where to report abuse, needs to be readily available so that concerned family members or friends can report suspected cases without fear.
Of course, any system for abuse identification depends on the willingness of people to report it, which is sometimes a traumatic experience as it can lead to the break-up of families.
This is especially problematic in countries like Taiwan, where traditionally close-knit families tend to keep problems within the home.
But statistics indicate that attitudes may already be changing. In 2003 there were 8,013 reported cases of child abuse. Last year, that number rose to 13,077 cases, Ministry of the Interior figures show. Although this suggests abuse may be rising, it could also be an indication that people are more willing to file complaints.
The Children’s Welfare League Foundation says 70 children have died as a result of abuse since 2005. With these two cases, the death toll for this year already stands at five.
That is five too many. Urgent action must be taken to prevent further tragedies of this nature.