'I know my son is not angel, but...'

SINGAPORE - When her son was sent to the Singapore Boys' Home in January, she had expected him to come out a better person.

But she was not prepared for what happened to him there.

The 17-year-old boy suffered fractures to the facial bone around his right eye after he was attacked by two boys at the home last Tuesday.

He has double vision now and will undergo surgery at the National University Hospital (NUH) on Thursday.

His mother, who wanted to be known as Madam Siti, 41, fears the procedure could leave him blind in that eye.

She said in Malay on Wednesday, as she fought back tears: "We're talking about his eyesight here. My son is still young. He has his whole life ahead of him. I know my son is no angel but he is my flesh and blood. I expected him to be rehabilitated at the home, not be beaten up."

Last month's incident was not the first time that her son, whom we shall call Faizal, was attacked by other boys. Madam Siti said a group of youngsters ganged up against him in February and he suffered injuries to his face, left hand and back.

Police reports

The mother of two girls and three boys, aged between five and 19, made police reports following the two incidents.

A police spokesman confirmed the reports and said investigations were ongoing.

Responding to queries from The New Paper, the Ministry of Social and Family Development said it deeply regrets the two incidents involving Faizal and that the home is stepping up measures to better ensure overall security and safety for its residents.

Madam Siti said Faizal's behaviour changed for the worse shortly after her husband died of cancer in 2009.

She recalled that he had died at around Hari Raya and added: "Hari Raya's coming again soon and even now I still can't get over his death."

Shaking her head, she said: "My son was very close to his father and my husband's death affected him badly. His studies suffered and he dropped out of school in Secondary 3."

Madam Siti, who earns $800 a month as a massage therapist for post-natal mothers, is thankful that her relatives and friends are helping the family with their daily needs.

Faizal's woes began after he dropped out of school and started distributing fliers to earn money.

He was working in Bedok one day when one of his friends, known only as Lan, joined him. They spotted some cardboard boxes at a block of flats and decided to set them on fire.

Faizal said with a sheepish smile: "I don't know why we did that. I regret it now. I've lost contact with Lan since that incident."

Lan was caught at the scene and Faizal was given 15 months' probation.

As part of the probation, he had to observe a curfew and remain indoors between 9pm and 6am. However, he broke the curfew and was caught.

He was then sent to the Singapore Boys' Hostel at McNair Road near Boon Keng. Faizal claimed that he was bullied by the other boys there and ran away twice. He was finally sent to the Singapore Boys' Home in Jurong West in January where he was supposed to serve a 15-month sentence.

He said five boys ganged up on him on Feb 22 and attacked him with badminton rackets.

"They confronted me, claiming that I had said something insulting to them. But this was not true. I tried to explain to them but they beat me up anyway," he said.

Madam Siti said she found out about the attack two days later when she visited him.

Letter

After the incident, she received a letter from the home's senior assistant director, Mr Lim Guan Seng, telling her that her son would be transferred to another residential block for his safety.

But his problems continued in the new block. Faizal said two boys confronted and attacked him on July 23 "over some problems" and he had to be taken to NUH for treatment. He declined to say what the "problems" were.

Madam Siti said the home called her the next day about the incident.

"I went down on July 25 and demanded to take my son home. He is safe with me now. I'm very disappointed with the home. How could it have allowed this to happen a second time?

"I don't want him to return to the home. I think it is best for him to serve the rest of his sentence in our flat - under probation."

Lawyer Mervyn Tan said Madam Siti could engage a lawyer to make an application in the High Court for Faizal to be housed in a different institution or be given probation which he could serve at home.

But for this to happen, an important factor that will be considered is whether she is able to keep an eye on her son at all times.

"The court will consider the facts of the case like how and why he was assaulted before deciding on the outcome. Youngsters are sent to homes so that they can be rehabilitated in a controlled environment.

"He had been ordered by the court to be sent to the boys' home. It will be very difficult for the mother to change this decision without making an application to the High Court," Mr Tan said.

Another lawyer, Mr Chia Boon Teck, said Madam Siti's best bet is to complain to Mr Lim who "appears to be the most relevant person to follow up on the matter".

Loss of vision reported among some

The risk of blindness in the operation Faizal will undergo is minimal, but cases of loss of vision due to haemorrhage behind the globe (of the eye) or severe post-operative swelling have been reported among other patients, says an eye specialist.

Based on information provided by The New Paper, Dr Audrey Looi, the head of oculoplastics service at the Singapore National Eye Centre, said that Faizal has fractures involving the thin bones around his eye.

This causes displacement of the muscles responsible for eye movement and disrupts the normal delicate pulley system around the eye, resulting in double vision.

She added: "This double vision experienced pre-operatively may persist following surgery if soft tissue injury (around the eye) is severe.

"However, most patients do well with preservation of vision and the double vision also frequently improves after some time. Loss of sensation below the eye can sometimes be permanent but fortunately, this does not affect daily function much."

Immediate medical attention

In both incidents, Faizal received immediate medical attention from the home's in-house doctor before he was taken to hospital for further examination and treatment, the Ministry of Social and Family Development said on Wednesday.

Its spokesman said in an e-mail: "The residents involved were segregated to different dormitories as a safety precaution.

"The parent was informed, and an investigation initiated. Disciplinary actions were taken." She said that a police report was made following completion of the first investigation.

The home is also making arrangements for Faizal's educational needs while he is on home leave.

While the police are investigating the incidents, the home is stepping up measures to better ensure overall security and safety for its residents.

The spokesman added: "We will intensify patrols for both open and enclosed areas, and increase staff deployment... The home will also review how else it can better ensure the safety and security of (the residents) in their rehabilitation journey."

The ministry will also improve communications with parents and reiterate to residents the channels available to them to report incidents and concerns.

ashaffiq@sph.com.sg


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