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Having adults present an appropriate move

New support scheme for minors can provide a safeguard

Being questioned by the police can be a stressful experience, especially for those aged below 16 and their parents.

A new scheme starting in phases from April that allows independent and trained volunteers - or Appropriate Adults (AA) - to accompany young suspects in police interviews could alleviate the stress.

Based on an existing scheme for people with intellectual or mental disabilities, the AAs will be a more comforting presence compared to the police officers.

More importantly, being trained in police procedures, they can prevent miscommunication between the teens and the police.

The AA scheme was announced by the Ministry of Home Affairs after a multi-agency review of criminal investigation process for minors.

While the AAs are involved only in the police interviews, the Education Ministry also made changes by ensuring that teens picked up from schools are accompanied by staff in police vehicles.

The tweaks were the Government's response to concerns sparked by the suicide of Benjamin Lim, 14, last January, hours after he was taken from school and questioned by the police.

The case led parents to ask if officers should be allowed to interview minors alone, and what schools should do when the police arrive to question students.

While many cheer the new scheme, some have questioned why parents cannot be present in the police interviews and why the police retain the discretion on whether to involve an AA.

But it is important to note the need to balance between solving crimes and protecting the interests of minors.

And not all cases will require the AAs. More than 7,000 young suspects were arrested between 2011 and 2015 but only 15 per cent were prosecuted.

The AAs are also not a foolproof solution to youth suicides.

But the scheme does provide a safeguard against such cases - as long as the police exercise discretion judiciously.

For a start, it requires the public's support in coming forward as volunteers.

The death of one schoolboy, even if he had been treated sensitively, is still one too many.

policeMINISTRY OF HOME AFFAIRS (MHA)Singapore