Singapore - Child Rights Coalition Asia
At first glance, Singapore is probably a perfect place for a child to live: one of Asia’s cleanest and most creative places, it has an advanced medical system, very high literacy rate and juvenile courts. Yet this picture is not as near perfect as Singapore may have envisioned it to be. A freer environment still eludes Singapore, including its children.
Singapore’s immense investment in its human resources is reflected by its health and education systems. The city-state has a100 per cent coverage for water and sanitation. According to the World Health Organization, under 5 years child mortality rate is minimal, with just 3 per 1,000 live births in 2009.
Meanwhile, literacy rate is almost 100 per cent. In its CRC periodic report, the government claims that 98 per cent of students complete at least 10 years of general education while 93 per cent proceed to post-secondary institutions. Its Kindergarten Financial Assistance Scheme and Centre-Based Financial Assistance for Childcare was also established to support the education of children from low-income families. It also boasts that more and more women are taking up courses which have long been associated with men, consisting almost 59 per cent in the health sciences, another 58.5 per cent in architecture and building and 57.3 per cent in natural, physical and mathematical science.
In 2003, Singapore approved the Compulsory Education Act, which provides for free primary education for children up to six years. It follows a model which attempts to hone the abilities which children are best at. Thus, the city-state has established some specialized schools on sports, mathematics, science, technology and the arts.
Singapore has also institutionalized some protective measures for children, including those who are in conflict with the law and involved in human trafficking through its Penal Code, Children and Young Persons Act, the Women’s Charter and Trafficking in Persons. These laws cover Singaporeans overseas.
Changes were made in minimum age for employment for children and young workers, from 14 to 15 years and for those engaged in light work, 13 to 14 years. The country has also amended its media laws to ensure the non-proliferation of child pornography. Communities are also being built among law enforcers, schools, social workers and civic organizations over child abuse cases. By 2008, Singapore established its first child care court, which was primarily designed to facilitate cases of children who are in conflict with the law.
But however good these measures are, the question is who are the benefitting these, all children in Singapore or just Singaporean children? Although the laws now allow children to take after their mothers’ citizenship, the laws are silent for those who were born before 2004. The Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern on this gap and mentioned that even the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women urged the city state to consider granting citizenship to children of Singaporean mothers born before 2004.
Likewise, discrimination persists against girls, children with disabilities and non-Singaporean citizens. Not all educational institutions are accessible to children with disabilities. The several special schools which the Ministry of Education built over the years are run by voluntary welfare organizations. There are also indications that data on children with disabilities are limited.
The country’s stance on the UN CRC, which it only ratified in 1995, is likewise staunchly biased for prevailing traditions and cultures, which may actually be blind to the disproportionate impacts due to gender, citizenship and class. As one of Singapore’s reservations read: “The accession to the Convention by the Republic of Singapore does not imply the acceptance of obligations going beyond the limits prescribed by the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore nor the acceptance of any obligation to introduce any right beyond those prescribed under the Constitution.”
Aside from discrimination, the gaps in Singapore’s otherwise solid child care, education and protection systems lies can be attributed to the country’s disdain for human freedoms, including freedoms of expression and association. In fact, one of Singapore’s UN CRC reservations lies on a child’s right to express her or his opinions. Such uneasiness is contrasted by the government’s penchant for discipline that, in many cases, has become violent. This can be gleaned in the same judicial system which boasts of a child court.
According to the 2011 UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s concluding observations, the minimum age for criminal responsibility remains quite low at seven years. Children between seven to 16 years may also be punished through caning, along with corporal punishment and solitary confinement. Children under 18 may also be sentenced to life imprisonment. And despite Singapore’s relatively new juvenile justice system, children between 16 to 18 years continued to be tried in adult courts. The Committee also expressed concern over cases where children as young as eight years could be institutionalized with the filing of complaints from parents.
Although Singapore revised its minimum age for employment from 12 to 13 years, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child still found this too low, even lower than the age of a child by the time of her or his last year for compulsory schooling, 14 years.
Corporal punishment especially for boys is also practiced in schools and households, which are most difficult to monitor. Singapore’s School Regulation Act allows physical harm directed on the palms and clothed buttocks as a corrective measure particularly for boys. The provision for corporal punishment extends to drug rehabilitation centers, detention centers, Singapore Boys Home and the military, where all boys are expected to be trained for two years.
Discipline is similarly reflected by a heightened sense of competition, which appears to one reason for the suicide rate among children. A 2009 study by doctors based in the Woodbridge Hospital and Institute of Mental Health Singapore says that 22 per cent of over 600 children, aged between six and 12 years old has contemplated suicide.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and other child-focused organizations have long urged Singapore to lift its reservations and subscribe to the Optional Protocols of CRC and CEDAW and other important human rights instruments. One of these is the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. Moreover they recommended the necessary amendments to Singapore’s own laws, especially those which would result to the empowerment of girls, children with disability, children in distress and conflict with the law and children of non-Singaporean parents.
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
CRC Second and Third Periodic Report (CRC/C/SGP/2-3): Download Here
Concluding Observations (CRC/C/SGP/CO/2-3): Download Here