HE WAS suspended from school for having a tattoo.
To return, all the 16-year-old had to do was laser off the tattoo.
But that is not something the boy is willing to do. And his mother is standing by him - even if it meant moving to another school.
After approaching seven schools on her own and another three with the school's help, she finally found one that agreed to take him in - but he must keep his tattoos hidden.
All this because of the boy's refusal to remove the tattoos.
Both mother and son claim they were not aware of the school's 'no tattoo' rule.
They feel they have been denied 'the right to basic education just because he has a tattoo'.
We are not identifying the boy and his school, situated in the south, at the request of his mother.
The boy has five tattoos, including a dragon head, on the right side of his chest.
His mother, who wanted to be known only as Madam Yip, 50, is divorced.
She claims she learnt about the first of his five tattoos only after he had it done. He was in Secondary 2 then.
It is not known how he got the money to pay for the tattoos, which can cost thousands of dollars, depending on the intricacy of the design.
Said Madam Yip: 'I found out by chance that he had a tattoo and I was so angry that I caned him. I was angry and disappointed.'
But she is reluctant to make him remove the tattoos.
She asked: 'Why put him through laser removal now? Can't the school just give him a public caning to teach him a lesson?'
The school's student handbook states that the school does not allow students to have tattoos and, should a student be caught with one, he or she can return only after starting laser treatment to remove it.
But the boy is adamant that he has done nothing wrong.
'If tattoos are not allowed in school,' he said, 'why then is there no minimum age (for getting a tattoo)?'
The Education Ministry has no rule against tattoos in schools, preferring to leave it to the schools' discretion.
And it is true, there is no minimum age for getting a tattoo in Singapore.
Responding to queries from The New Paper, the school's principal said: 'If a pupil is found with a tattoo, his parents will be brought in and the pupil will be suspended temporarily from school until they have seen a doctor regarding the removal of the tattoo.
'The rules are printed in the School Diary and Handbook which every pupil purchases at the start of the year. The Discipline Committee of the school also briefs pupils on the school rules at the start of every year.'
The boy, who was in the Normal Academic stream, was repeating Sec 3 before he was suspended.
He had exposed a tattoo of a dragon head on his chest when he removed his T-shirt while playing basketball in school one afternoon.
Why not agree to remove the tattoo?
Madam Yip said: 'I don't want to make him remove the tattoo. If he does it, it has to be because he wants to do it himself.'
But the boy claims he is afraid of laser removal because of what his friend went through.
Said Madam Yip: 'He came back and told me that he was very scared and that his friend's parents had forced him to go through the first laser session.
'He broke into tears as he told me about the ugly scars left on his friend.'
Her son also told her that his friend had returned to school after fulfilling the condition of going through the first laser treatment.
But the situation remained deadlocked. And Madam Yip began looking for another school that would take in her son.
The school said it would help her son transfer to another school if he refused to remove the tattoo, Madam Yip said.
After waiting, she approached the Ministry of Education for help.
'I wrote the school a note of apology for the trouble my son had caused and informed them that I had approached the authorities for help,' said Madam Yip.
Give boy a chance
The e-mail, dated 17 Apr, was shown to The New Paper. It said: 'Maybe as a third party we will not forgive him. But as a principal and a mother, we've got to give him a chance.'
Added Madam Yip: 'I am very against tattoos but what can I do since it is already on his skin.'
The teenager has not attended classes for the last two months.
His mother claimed she approached seven schools on her own in the two months, but they declined to accept her son.
'The seven schools I called up said they could not take my son in because it's in the middle of a school term,' said Madam Yip.
The boy's former school later helped to refer the boy to three schools.
One school was too far away from her home and the other asked for the tattoo to be removed.
The third school agreed to accept the boy on condition that his tattoo is not exposed to other students.
He will join that school after the mid-year holidays later this month.
Madam Yip told The New Paper that her son will try to catch up on his schoolwork.
She said: 'I am very thankful for this chance given to him and my son has given the school his assurance that he will work hard and do as well as he can.'
Pearly Tan, newsroom intern
This article was first published in The New Paper.