Experts: Volunteers can ease anxiety of young suspects

Experts have commended the implementation of the new Appropriate Adult Scheme for Young Suspects (AAYS), which they say takes into account the vulnerability of children without affecting investigations.

The scheme, which sees independent and trained volunteers accompanying young suspects during police interviews, was announced yesterday by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Child psychologist Carol Balhetchet told The New Paper that the scheme was a "brilliant idea".

"Not only does it help protect the legal system and allow investigations to continue, but more importantly, the child is also protected," said Dr Balhetchet.

"All young people are afraid of authority and these trained volunteers would be able to keep an eye out for the child's vulnerability and defuse any emotional stress."

The emotional stress, she added, could affect the child's ability to answer questions or assist in investigations.

Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Gleneagles Hospital, said children are more prone to anxiety, which would in turn affect how they respond to authority.

"Being young can be anxiety-provoking. In Singapore, we are taught to respect authority and keep away from unlawful wrongdoings.

"Even if we do nothing wrong, we worry about it," he said.

"It is worse in children. I am sure the police are always fair, but with the presence of these appropriate adults, there will be someone in the room who knows a bit of mental health first aid and will help them feel less anxious."


Lawyers who have represented child offenders also applauded the AAYS. Hilborne Law director Rajan Supramaniam, who has been in practice for more than 15 years, said the scheme was "long overdue".

Mr Rajan said: "These children may be emotionally worked up during the investigations and may speculate on a lot of things. They might feel intimidated and be unable to understand the significance of what they say.

"The third party's presence would help protect the interest of the child and provide some psychological security."

Lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam, who has also represented young offenders for various juvenile and drug offences, agreed with Mr Rajan.

"It is a welcome step because at least someone can provide comfort and help clarify questions for the suspects," he said.

"The police are fair but firm, and these children can have a lot of emotional issues that will be aggravated under the stress of investigations.

"Knowing that there is someone looking after their interest will give them peace of mind."

This article was first published on January 7, 2017.
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