CLD Criminal Law Basics

Juvenile Delinquency

With reference to the Children and Young Person’s Act (CYPA), a juvenile is someone aged 7 or above and below 16 years old.

Over the years, the number of juveniles arrested have decreased, according to statistics provided by Ministry of Home Affairs, updated as of 4 April 2017.[1] However, a Straits Times article has also reported that the police have found a soar in juvenile arrests for shop theft and possession of offensive weapons. [2]

In fact, numerous cases of youth riots and their involvements in gang fights have surfaced as more teenagers turn to violence. In Oct 2014, 4 teenage boys aged 15-19 met up at a void deck at 3am to look for foreign workers to beat up and attacked a Chinese national by punching him several times before fleeing. These boys had also previously attacked an Indian foreign worker, two weeks prior to this. The 19 year old assailant pleaded guilty and was thus sentenced to 10 days in detention. In that same month, five youths aged 16 to 22 were arrested for rioting with a deadly weapon and attacking a 21-year-old man in Woodlands. In 2010, an infamous gang fight at Downtown East broke out between rival gangs that led to the slashing and subsequent death of a 19 year old Darren Ng.[3] More recently, 9 youths aged 14-16 were arrested for rioting in Woodlands on 27 April 2017.

Experts suggest that for youths, the tendency to partake in senseless violence and brutality could be due to an amalgamation of multiple triggering factors such as stress, angst, inebriation as well as their upbringing during the formative years. Violence at home would also expectedly perpetuate violent tendencies of a child in the future. “These youths seem to be people who have anger issues and choose to take it out on people who are less likely to retaliate,” suggests Dr Brian Yeo, a consultant psychiatrist at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, according to a report made by The New Paper. [4]

While adolescents committing minor offences may not be prosecuted but sent for rehabilitation instead, the government has taken a firmer stance against youth offenders that have committed serious crimes. “While rehabilitative options are available for young offenders who are suitable, the courts have also meted out more severe punishments if the offence was a serious one, including deterrent sentences to send a strong signal that such criminal behaviour will not be condoned nor taken lightly,” says Second Minister for Home Affairs Mr Masagos Zulkifli.[5] The high certainty of arrest and firm punitive measures are crucial in deterring youth crime, so prompt and effective enforcement by agencies in tandem with strict laws will be necessary. This is reflected in the punishments meted out for the death in the 2010 Downtown East gang fights, where the youth offenders were sentenced 3 to 12 years jail and 3 to 12 strokes of caning, depending on the severity of their involvement.

For minor offences, a second chance is offered through pre-court diversionary programmes such as the Guidance Programme introduced in 1997, which targets youth aged 10 to 19 that have committed minor crimes. This rehabilitative programme lasts for about 6 months and offers a community-based support network and successful completion of the 6 months means a police warning, which prevents youth offenders from having to face the stigma of court prosecution. In fact, Channel News Asia reports that approximately 9 in 10 youths stay crime-free 3 years after completing the programme, demonstrating the effectiveness of this policy.[6]

Aside from these pre-court diversionary programmes, the Children and Young Persons Act involves multiple clauses that protect youth offenders from that the blemishes that court prosecution has on their portfolio, which is vital in the reintegration back to community. CYPA s.35 restricts the publication of information relating to proceedings involving children and young persons to maintain a modicum of privacy and keep the identity of the youth secret.[7] CYPA s.41 stipulates that “words “conviction” and “sentence” shall cease to be used in relation to children and young persons dealt with by a Youth Court”. These clauses depict the sensitivity accorded to cases involving youth offenders and considerations for the child, to ensure that they are not tattooed with an almost-permanent stigmatisation associated to a court prosecution.

Written by Ng Cai Jia Felicia

[1] Ministry of Social and Family Development (https://www.msf.gov.sg/research-and-data/Research-and-Statistics/Pages/Juvenile-Delinquents-Juveniles-Arrested.aspx)

[2] (The Straits Times, 2017) 14.2% drop in youth arrests in 1st half of 2017, but more nabbed for shop theft and carrying weapons.

[3] (The Straits Times, 2013) Couple lost son in Downtown East gang fight in 2010, but now save his friends

[4] (Hariz Baharudin, The New Paper, 2016) More young people in Singapore turning to violence

[5] (The Straits Times, 2015) Parliament: Young offenders who commit serious crimes ‘should be severely punished’

[6] (Channel News Asia, 2016) A second chance for young offenders

[7] CYPA s.35—(1) Subject to subsection (2), no person shall —

  • (a)  publish or broadcast any information relating to any proceedings in any court or on appeal from any court that reveals the name, address or school or that includes any particulars that are calculated to lead to the identification of any child or young person concerned in the proceedings, either as being the person against or in respect of whom the proceedings are taken or as being a witness therein; or
  • (b)  publish or broadcast any picture as being or including a picture of any child or young person so concerned in any such proceedings.

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