Child abuse in Singapore
By Arash Shah Hosseini, Essays Editor
With more people staying at home during the Circuit Breaker (CB) period, some children have to reside in an environment that may be unsafe for their well-being. The Straits Times has reported that there are more cases of family violence during the CB period. The month of April saw 476 cases arising from family violence, an increase from a monthly average of 389 cases.
Of these cases, child abuse forms one of the largest branches of family violence in Singapore.
What is child abuse?
According to the Singapore Legal Advice, child abuse entails ill-treatment of various kinds. This includes:
Physical and sexual abuse
Endangering the child
Harming the health and emotional wellbeing of the child
Abandonment and neglect
What are the signs of child abuse?
There are several indicators of child abuse ranging from physical injuries to changes in behaviour. The more common signs include unexplainable injuries, aggression signs, sleeping, and eating problems.
Other less obvious signs include pain without any underlying health issues, unusual interest in sexual matters, hygiene issues, and self-esteem problems.
How are children-at-risk protected?
The Singaporean Government is intolerant of child abuse and has enacted measures to protect every child. These measures include but are not limited to:
24-hour hotlines run by the Singapore Children Society;
continual review of policies under MSF; and
erection of shelter for sexually abused children.
Also, the Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA) – which protects children-at-risk - stands at the forefront of criminalising any form of abuse on children.
As a preponderance of the children falls between the ages of 7 to 12 years, the CYPA, which recently extended its ambit to children below the age of 18 years, was enacted to strike a balance between family authority and the protection by the State.
The Ministry of Law introduced the Child Protection Act where social workers can file for a summon in the Youth Court should they feel that the child is better off away from their family. This shows that the legal policies comprise an apposite framework that covers most angles of protecting children-at-risk.
What are the penalties for child abuse offenders?
There are many charges concerning child abuse where different offence yields different punishments under the law. For ill-treatment of a child under the CYPA, a fine of up to $8,000, and 8-years of jail, or both may be sentenced by the courts.
The penalties range in tandem with the severity of the committed offence. For instance, the charge of voluntarily causing hurt to a child and ill-treating a child differs significantly.
What happens to victims of child abuse?
In more severe cases that involve further investigation by the authorities, the child is removed from the household and housed temporarily at a social service shelter. The child will be given care and protection while undergoing psychological and mental assessments if necessary to ensure no severe damage has been inflicted on the child.
The child will then be brought before a youth court to decide on permanent care arrangements for the child.
How to help children-at-risk reintegrate into society?
The Asset-based Community Development (ABCD) approach focuses on the social capacities of each child-at-risk in a quest to reintegrate them into society. The focus on the child’s strengths will form new opportunities for productive outcomes to recover from the trauma of being abused.
The focus on each child-at-risk and their assets act as a starting point of their development in their integration stage.
For instance, Children-At-Risk Empowerment (CARE) has launched events showcasing the children’s talents and expertise to encourage them to see their worth.
By partnering with Sportif Youth, an organization that aims to empower the young through sports and community service, CARE aims to instil the love for sports in these children. Through fostering inclusive participation in enabling environments, it provides a podium for each child to thrive based on their capabilities.
The needs-based approach and its effectiveness.
The needs-based approach fosters a leadership that disparages the children based on the difference in statuses of both parties. This can further disenfranchise the children as it tackles the symptoms and visible effects of child abuse.
In other words, only when a child displays tangible signs of abuse, organisations aim to mitigate the effects of these forms of abuse towards the child by providing counselling and interactive sessions.
The needs-based approach is effective mainly to help children-at-risk recover. but it does not provide the necessary additional support required to reintegrate into society.
How can Singapore improve?
The case of the United Kingdom indicates the effective use of community empowerment taps on as its cornerstone for development in helping children-at-risk reintegrate into society.
The collective strength of the community bridges the capital of different stakeholders to facilitate the supportive environment necessary for recovery. Mobilising the community to build assets will always be of interest as it forges an independent community ready to realise the common good.
Also, the government can also provide information that keeps the public informed as to how to go about contributing to the cause.
NGOs can better utilise their services and expertise by educating others within the community so that it increases the avenues for children-at-risk to seek help. These avenues can help in the network-building of the community. When the community gathers with a common goal, the amalgamation of their expertise acts as the power to help with the children’s recovery. This large power base outweighs the issue of child abuse, making a panacea more attainable.
What can you do to help?
1. Raise Awareness
There are several NGOs dedicated to preventing child abuse and helping children-at-risk reintegrate into society. Among the many are Big Love Child Protection Specialist Centre, HEART@Fei Yue Child Protection Specialist Centre, and PAVE.
These organisations provide bountiful information on domestic violence, specifically child abuse. It encourages individuals to educate themselves on the detriments of child abuse by catching potential cases early and reporting through the right channels.
2. Spot the Signs
To help children-at-risk from abusive households, individuals must be able to spot the signs of such children. Refer to the above mentioned potential indicators that children may face difficulties and hardships especially when most cases indicate that these children-at-risk are unable to verbalise their mishaps.
3. Report through the right channels
Reporting instances of child abuse is the first step in putting a stop to future abuse.
If the child’s life is in danger, call 999 immediately.
In other less severe cases, such instances can be reported to Child Protective Service Helpline at 1800-777-0000.
It is vital to provide information that can expedite the response by the authorities. This includes, but is not limited to: a description of injuries, abuse, neglect, location of abuse, when and how one finds out about the abuse. Other important information is the name of the child, age, address, name of the alleged person causing harm, age, and relationship to the child.
Arash is a second-year student majoring in Political Science at NUS. He is serving The Convergence as an Essays Editor. An avid traveller, Arash aims to step foot on as many countries while learning about different cultures and how it applies to Singapore.