Youth in Singapore need better protection
Experts say more must be done to ensure under-21s can seek help for abuse, such as lowering the age of consent for rape kits
The teenager had been raped, but to access a rape kit at a hospital to preserve forensic evidence of sexual violence, she needed her parents' signature, being under 21 years of age.
When she eventually told her parents, they blamed her for the sexual assault instead.
In another case, a young girl who was also under 21 years of age was blackmailed by someone who threatened to leak her nude photos online.
Worried about her parents' reaction, she decided to stay silent instead of making a magistrate's complaint, which would require a parent's or guardian's signature as she was underage.
Having dealt with such cases at its Sexual Assault Care Centre, Aware said that Singapore needs to improve children's access to help and services for gender-based violence, such as removing the requirement of a guardian's signature for rape kits to be performed for under-21s and allowing those under 21 to make appeals under the Protection from Harassment Act (Poha) by themselves, if necessary.
The issue on harassment was also recently raised in Parliament during the debate on the amendments to Poha.
Head of Aware's Sexual Assault Care Centre Anisha Joseph told The New Paper that many young people did not want to make a police report, fearing that their parents would be involved at the stage of forensic medical examination.
She said: "They fear judgment, blame and reprimand from their parents."
Ms Joseph, along with other experts, stressed that it is even harder in instances when the perpetrator is a family member and the non-offending guardian is emotionally and financially dependent on the perpetrating guardian.
Lawyer Amolat Singh said that in Singapore, until a person turns 21, he or she is considered a minor and has no legal capacity to start or defend any proceeding in court without a parent's or guardian's signature.
Even in cases where the perpetrator is a member of the family or a parent, the other parent or a legal guardian is still required to be the signatory, he added.
18 INSTEAD OF 21
Mr Singh said that some countries such as England, for example, had shifted the age of majority, or when one ceases to be a minor, to 18, and Singapore could also consider doing so.
Lawyer Gloria James-Civetta agreed that changing the age limit to 18 could be an option.
She also pointed out that the requirement for the parent's or guardian's signature applies only in cases where the perpetrator is an outsider.
Should the perpetrator be a parent or guardian, the child can seek recourse through the Ministry of Social and Family Development, she added.
Said Ms James-Civetta: "Should the parents or guardians fail to act in the child's best interests to report the claim of harassment, they would likely be liable under Section 5(2)(c) of the Children and Young Persons Act for wilfully or unreasonably neglecting the child in circumstances where the child's safety is likely to be endangered."
Family therapist Evonne Leksaid that the under-21 rule will affect reporting and suggested that the age be shifted to 16, or to ensure that a child can seek help even without the signature of their parents.
She, however, stressed that it remains important for parents to be kept in the loop and said that it could help to have professionals such as social workers mediate such situations.
She said: "A rape kit should be given to anyone who needs it, regardless of age because time is of the essence. Once you turn the child away while you wait for their parent's response, they might have second thoughts and no longer want to open up."
Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong said in Parliament on May 7 that young victims of harassment can seek recourse in court by allowing third parties, like voluntary welfare organisations, to file civil proceedings on their behalf.
Nominated Member of Parliament Anthea Ong, who had raised the issue in Parliament,told TNP that the lowering of the age limit for seeking help without the need for a signature could also help deter would-be perpetrators and make children less vulnerable.
"Together with good public education and teaching children that they have such a source of protection available could help empower victims to report their abuse," she added.