Book throws light on workings of juvenile justice system

SINGAPORE - By the time she turned 15, the girl had experienced sex, glue-sniffing and heroin. She looked set to be ruined for life if not for the day the Juvenile Court sent her to a girls' home.

That helped to transform the girl, whose success story is chronicled in a new book on the workings of Singapore's juvenile justice system.

Written by former family court district judge Lim Hui Min, it provides insights into the role of various stakeholders and the community in the treatment of child offenders. Juvenile Justice: Where Rehabilitation Takes Centre Stage is published by Academy Publishing, a division of the Singapore Academy of Law, and explains the workings of the juvenile justice system, its key players and how it can make a positive difference in the life of a juvenile offender.

Ms Lim, now director of the Legal Services Unit at the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), told The Sunday Times: "The book is for everyone who is involved in the juvenile justice system and who works with young people, especially youth-at-risk, whether it is a lawyer, probation officer, counsellor, social worker, manager of a children's home, police officer, teacher and so on.

"Hopefully this will provide encouragement to all who are working with youth, and also inspire those who are keen to go into this area."

Her own encounters with young offenders began more than 10 years ago as a young magistrate in the Family and Juvenile Court, and in the preface of the book, she shares her recollection of that time and the children who appeared before her.

Not all cases end happily: One youth grew up with parents rocked by heavy debts and a poor relationship. That led him to dubious friends, bad habits and robbery. He was sent to the Singapore Boys' Home and responded well, but relapsed in the last leg of his term when he was allowed home leave. His was a case of two steps forward and one step back, Ms Lim notes.

But unlike him, another youth born out of wedlock to drug-addict parents overcame the odds of an exceptionally poor start in life to make good after three years at the Singapore Boys' Home. He was matched early with a volunteer counsellor who stayed the course with him beyond his discharge.

The book comes at a time when the authorities have pressed on with programmes to keep the figures on youth crime down.

Separately, although the total number of Beyond Parental Control cases was halved from 121 in 2008 to 60 in 2012, the number of cases rose to 83 last year according to MSF figures.

These are cases involving children under 16 who cannot be managed by their parents or are at risk of turning delinquent.

The Juvenile Court can issue an order to place the child under compulsory supervision or in a residential facility for those who show very high-risk behaviours.

An MSF spokesman told The Sunday Times that early intervention measures are key in addressing pre-delinquency issues and preventing at-risk youth from offending. The ministry works closely with partners in various other agencies to address problems and issues related to juvenile delinquency in Singapore.

He pointed to various pre-court diversionary programmes such as the Guidance Programme and Streetwise Programme to deal with low-risk youth offenders and prevent re-offending, among other things.

In a foreword to Ms Lim's book, Judge of Appeal V.K. Rajah praises the author as someone "who walks the talk".

"She reminds us all how it is evidently in society's interests to ensure that every individual, especially among our youth, is helped to achieve his or her full potential."

The book, priced at $64.20, is available at major bookstores and can also be bought online via the Singapore Academy of Law website at www.sal.org.sg


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