Scourge of ah longs

Scourge of ah longs

SINGAPORE - The overall crime rate is down and looks like it will hit a 29-year low this year. This is a creditable performance given the open nature of a hub city like Singapore. But although loan shark harassment cases fell by 10 per cent in the first six months of this year compared to the same period last year, after a get-tough policy and a national education campaign, they remain a scourge.

The persistence and violence of this primitive trade, which dates back decades, should not be accepted with resignation. This is especially so when loan shark runners target debtors' neighbours as well when they splash paint on public property.

High Court Justice Tay Yong Kwang recently appeared to set the sentencing guidelines for loan sharks who target debtors' neighbours by upping the sentence to two to three months' extra jail. Yes, increase the punishment to deter such acts. But unfortunately, it might be the runners who feel more pain. Some of them are victims trying to pay back their own debts. Nabbing the kingpins is always harder.

Despite efforts to offer legal alternatives for lower-income debtors, such as MaxiCash, there will always be people who turn to ah longs and put themselves, their families and their neighbours at risk.

Learning the basics of managing money is all the more important for this group of people. Non-governmental organisations should take up the cause to educate this vulnerable group of people and help extricate them from the lenders' grip.

Many who turn to loan sharks are inveterate gamblers. Their family members should nudge them to see social workers or psychologists so that they could be counselled. The home environment is very important, especially for children growing up. They should not be allowed to see gambling as normal and should have role models who show them that gambling can lead them down the path of being beholden to loan sharks and at their mercy.

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