Singapore

Minister Tan Chuan-Jin: It's everyone's responsibility to help prevent child abuse

More children are being abused.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development's (MSF) Child Protective Service (CPS) received 2,022 reports and inquiries about child abuse last year.

Of these, it investigated 551 that were instances of serious abuse.

This was an increase of about 40 per cent in serious child abuse cases, compared to the period from 2012 to 2014.

In a Facebook post, MSF Minister Tan Chuan-Jin says it was heartbreaking to read about Daniel's case.

"It pains me to know that things could have turned out very differently, if only someone had sounded the alarm earlier.

"This 'someone' can be a housemate, neighbour, relative, friend, passer-by… in fact, anyone in the community who knows or suspects that there could be family violence or child abuse happening - it is everyone's responsibility to do something about it," he says.

The likelihood of a neighbour hearing the cries of a child in an HDB estate would be high.

Yet some neighbours won't call for help.

Psychiatrist at Glenagles Hospital Dr Lim Boon Leng says people are reluctant to make assumptions about what happens in another home.

He says: "Neighbours might think it is just some shouting, that the parents are disciplining their children.

"They have no idea the child might be abused."

This stems from a non-confrontational mentality, says Singapore Children Society's senior director for youth services, Dr Carol Balhetchet.

"The approach is to mind your own business. They don't want to jump the gun and accuse the parents because they think they don't know enough," adds Dr Balhetchet

There is also the fear that families can be torn apart if these reports are made, says Dr Lim.

Dr Balhetchet adds: "It is a double-edged sword because the caregivers might end up being taken away.

"They worry about the child, who will look after him or her then?"

But these fears should not deter neighbours from reporting child abuse to the authorities, says Miss Annie Chia, lead social worker for the Family Service Centre (FSC) in the Telok Blangah Crescent area.

"FSCs are not there 24 hours a day. Neighbours see and hear more things.

"If the evidence is not strong, they can monitor and either let us or the police know, especially if it is a repeated incident," she says.

She adds that FSCs act on the tip-offs from neighbours and investigate cases that are highlighted to them.

"Our first step will be to try to find out more. We might pay these homes a visit and assess the situation from there. If there are reasonable grounds, we will call the police," she says.

OFFER ASSISTANCE

An MSF spokesman says neighbours and other bystanders can in fact play a part in preventing, detecting and reporting abuse.

He says: "If neighbours or bystanders witness an adult getting angry at a child or a terrified child crying, they can approach the family to check if the child is all right or they can offer assistance.

"Such small acts can help to diffuse a tense situation and stem violence before it escalates in intensity and severity. Family violence is not a private matter and bystanders should do something if they suspect violence."

Those concerned can also contact the ComCare line, CPS centres, family service centre. In the event that a life is in danger, the police should be alerted immediately.

The outcome of not reporting child abuse can be worse than keeping mum and being wrong, say experts.

Dr Lim says: "Repeated child abuse can lead to complex post-traumatic stress disorder in the victims. These people often grow up with a host of personality disorders."

Some of these include anxiety, anti-social personality and even depression.

There is also the possibility of the abused turning into an abuser when they grow up, perpetuating the violence that was inflicted upon them.

"They could end up becoming very angry people, lashing out constantly and hurting themselves and others," says Dr Balhetchet.

"This anger would be channelled into abuse, and it becomes a cycle."

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