Firstly, we learn that the #compulsoryeducation Act does not provide adequate protection of our children against family abuse and violence. This should not come as a surprise as this is not the intended purpose of the Act. It is to enforce the Child’s Right for Education and aims to compel parents/guardians to satisfy this fundamental Right.
Thus when the Student Welfare Officer threatened to apply this Act as a means of compelling the family to allow her to have a video interview with the child, this Act in itself, as Mr Eric Chua, Senior Parliamentary Secretary at MSF Singapore was reported quoted by ChannelNewsAsia as saying, that the “Child Protection Services cannot exercise its powers based on school absenteeism.” is correct. What Mr Chua could have gone on to say, is to inform Members of Parliament and Society at large that there are specific laws for the protection of Children and Young Persons and these are under the Children and Young Persons Act #CYPA.
The powers under this Act are potent, such as compelling parents to present their children for examination, entry into a home and removal of a child at risk. Perhaps a more appropriate question for Members to consider is, 𝐰𝐡𝐲 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐬𝐞 𝐥𝐚𝐰𝐬 𝐰𝐞𝐫𝐞 𝐧𝐨𝐭 𝐫𝐞𝐟𝐞𝐫𝐫𝐞𝐝 𝐭𝐨 𝐰𝐡𝐞𝐧 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐜𝐨𝐧𝐝𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐬 𝐮𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐫 𝐰𝐡𝐢𝐜𝐡 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐜𝐡𝐢𝐥𝐝 𝐰𝐚𝐬 𝐟𝐢𝐧𝐚𝐥𝐥𝐲 𝐚𝐥𝐥𝐨𝐰𝐞𝐝 𝐭𝐨 𝐛𝐞 𝐯𝐢𝐝𝐞𝐨 𝐢𝐧𝐭𝐞𝐫𝐯𝐢𝐞𝐰𝐞𝐝 𝐰𝐞𝐫𝐞 𝐥𝐞𝐬𝐬 𝐭𝐡𝐚𝐧 𝐨𝐩𝐭𝐢𝐦𝐚𝐥? We were told that the child was seen in low light conditions and was wearing long sleeve clothing. All these should have raised alarm bells to any trained child protection officer. Members were not told other information such as, 𝐢𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐜𝐡𝐢𝐥𝐝 𝐬𝐩𝐨𝐤𝐞 𝐰𝐢𝐥𝐥𝐢𝐧𝐠𝐥𝐲, 𝐰𝐚𝐬 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞 𝐚𝐧𝐲 𝐬𝐢𝐠𝐧 𝐨𝐟 𝐟𝐞𝐚𝐫 𝐨𝐫 𝐜𝐨𝐞𝐫𝐜𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐢𝐟 𝐬𝐡𝐞 𝐠𝐚𝐯𝐞 𝐚𝐧𝐲 𝐜𝐫𝐞𝐝𝐢𝐛𝐥𝐞 𝐚𝐜𝐜𝐨𝐮𝐧𝐭 𝐚𝐬 𝐭𝐨 𝐰𝐡𝐲 𝐬𝐡𝐞 𝐡𝐚𝐬 𝐛𝐞𝐞𝐧 𝐚𝐛𝐬𝐞𝐧𝐭 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐰𝐞𝐞𝐤𝐬. Furthermore, it appears that even after this rather unsatisfactory video interview, she still did not report to school and was only heard of when she was pronounced dead.
The glaring gap in this case is the role of the Child Protection Services (#CPS). It seems that as early as mid-Oct’20 they were aware of the school’s concern for this child. The CNA reported that CPS has to “ balance multiple conflicting interests” in cases like this. As a counsellor with 40 years of experience, I can well appreciate this and the difficult and challenging circumstances social workers and counsellors work under. But surely, the safety of a child is a common cause of concern and one that there is no dispute over.
I saw in an earlier The Straits Times article on 27 Feb ’23, that even the step-father’s family warned the father against using violence on his step-daughter. Unfortunately, even after this warning the step-father did not stop.
Another glaring gap is how such a case could have gone on for weeks and months without neighbours being alerted and showing some concern. We live near each other, so one might wonder how such acts of cruelty can go unnoticed and ignored. “Good fences”, as the saying goes, “makes good neighbours”. And perhaps, the neighbours were all minding our own business. Another lesson to be learnt here is that we need mindset change. 𝐖𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐢𝐟 𝐢𝐭 𝐢𝐬 𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐛𝐮𝐬𝐢𝐧𝐞𝐬𝐬 𝐭𝐨 𝐥𝐢𝐯𝐞 𝐢𝐧 𝐚 𝐬𝐮𝐩𝐩𝐨𝐫𝐭𝐢𝐯𝐞 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐜𝐚𝐫𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐰𝐚𝐲 𝐢𝐧 𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐦𝐮𝐧𝐢𝐭𝐲? 𝐖𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐢𝐟 𝐚 𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐦𝐮𝐧𝐢𝐭𝐲 𝐢𝐬 𝐚 𝐩𝐥𝐚𝐜𝐞 𝐰𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞 𝐢𝐭 𝐜𝐚𝐫𝐞𝐬 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐢𝐭𝐬 𝐦𝐞𝐦𝐛𝐞𝐫𝐬, 𝐞𝐬𝐩𝐞𝐜𝐢𝐚𝐥𝐥𝐲 𝐢𝐭𝐬 𝐦𝐨𝐬𝐭 𝐯𝐮𝐥𝐧𝐞𝐫𝐚𝐛𝐥𝐞 𝐨𝐧𝐞𝐬?
I suggest a revisit to a recent Sunday Times article on what can Witnesses of Family Violence do if one is unsure how to care.
Let us use this tragic death and the raw feelings it churns up to not go on a witch hunt and look for who to blame or who is responsible. Let us instead look for systemic gaps and oversights in the way we care for the young and helpless. When we do this, we can better close ranks and provide for a better safety net.
Past President and Founding Member of the Society Against Family Violence Singapore
25 Mar ‘23