Seemingly related to the rising divorce rate and the weakening of the family, child abuse has become a social problem that is a matter of serious concern in recent years. In fact, the number of cases reported more than doubled between 1993 and 1996. Physical abuse is the most common complaint (40.9 percent), followed by neglect (24.3 percent) and substandard parenting (19.1 percent).68 The Children's Welfare Law was passed in 1973 and was subsequently revised to deal with this problem. The approach was both unique and severe. Names of offenders are published, and fines can be as high as $11,000. Men have been most frequently charged under this law. Women, however, have been punished for smoking, drinking, taking drugs, and chewing betel nuts while pregnant.69
Rape, child prostitution, and other sex crimes are also attracting increasing attention in Taiwan. While not serious compared to most other countries, the extent of these activities has generated grave concern. Many people blame the society for becoming too permissive and for lax law enforcement.
Suicide has recently become a serious social problem; it is now one of the ten leading causes of death in Taiwan. Of the more than 2,000 people who take their own lives each year, one quarter are in their twenties, and the large majority are male (ten times the number of females). The number of student suicides is shocking to most of Taiwan's citizens, especially the number committed by those who fail college entrance or other examinations.70
A social (also economic and political) problem that affects nearly everyone in Taiwan is pollution and environmental damage. Air pollution is the worst and is most acute in the cities, especially Kaohsiung. Particulate matter and ozone are the biggest problems. While government regulations have been quite effective, it is difficult, given the ever-increasing numbers of motor vehicles, to improve air quality. Water pollution is also a serious matter in Taiwan, and most rivers and lakes have been seriously affected. Sewage is also a big problem and is an area where government in Taiwan has not done a very good job. Sewage hookups in most of Taiwan's cities do not include as high a percentage of residents as do those in many other cities in East Asia. Noise pollution is also bad in Taiwan. To most residents, the environment has become a serious social problem, one that will no doubt continue to get a thorough airing in the media and in election campaigns.
Although Taiwan's social problems are less serious than those in the modern Western democracies, they seem to be worse because they have appeared so suddenly. This very abruptness might lead to quicker, better solutions, and Taiwan might solve these problems as efficiently as it has dealt with so many others. The alternative is a worsening social environment that will adversely affect economic and political modernization.