By Vincent Law
Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's new Cabinet was sworn in last Thursday evening, introducing three coordinating Ministers to facilitate a more coherent whole-of-government response in the face of increasingly complex issues across Ministries.
The portfolio on National Security tasked to oversee counter-terrorism in Singapore is not new. The role was first held by former DPM Tony Tan in 2003 and then S Jayakumar from 2005 till 2010. Wong Kan Seng held the position briefly before DPM Teo Chee Hean took over in 2011 until now.
With the two new portfolios on Economic and Social Policies as well as Infrastructure in place, this would provide a much needed balance which national security and safety concerns seem to have overwhelmingly prevailed when dealing with the 2013 Little India riots and current anxieties over ISIS in the Middle East radicalising Singaporeans.
Young offenders in media spotlight
Over the last two years, several high profile cases of vandalism and one alleged act of hurting the religious feelings of Singaporeans involving youths below the age of 18, arguably came under national security concerns.
In one case, five youths were arrested for vandalising a HDB rooftop in Toa Payoh, while in the other case, a teen blogger went through a widely-publicised trial for making offensive remarks.
They were not spared nor protected from the glare of the mainstream media which had a field day splashing their faces and names in the news. This is a major cause for concern.
Article 16 of the United Nations Child Rights Convention (UNCRC) states, “No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation.”
In addition, Singapore’s own Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) stated:
"The law protects the identity of a child who is undergoing court proceedings from being broadcasted or published to maintain the child’s privacy and prevent media exposure and stigmatisation of victims. Under Section 35(1) of the Children and Young Persons Act (Cap. 38), the publication or broadcasting of information relating to court proceedings that may lead to the identification of the child or young person concerned in the proceedings is prohibited. In addition, Section 27A also prohibits the publication or broadcast of information that leads to the investigation of any child or young person who is subject to an investigation under the Act."
The individuals in the above-mentioned cases were not afforded any of such protection under the law.
In a separate case, a 17-year-old was arrested under the Internal Security Act and investigated for potential religious extremism. The teen was shielded from media scrutiny.
Going forward, it is hoped that MSF will take irresponsible media to task and remind all other agencies that are involved in cases of children and youth offenders to respect the law for the protection of the well-being and safety of the child or young person.
The strong mandate for Mr Lee's government is a good opportunity to set the necessary foundations of a democratic, equal and just society – principles that are enshrined in our national pledge. It is not merely aspirational but achievable for our next generation to give them hope and a stake in this country.
Vincent Law is a social work practitioner. His interests are in disenfranchised youths, complex families and the marginalised. Law made news earlier this year for acting as the bailor for Amos Yee earlier this year. The views expressed here are his own.