A debate has arisen following the sad death of a 14-year-old schoolboy whose body was found at the foot of an HDB block, on the afternoon after he had been questioned by police over the molestation of a girl aged 11. Distressing in and of themselves, the events have been publicly constructed in ways that have only added to the turmoil of the families involved. Worse, these have been aired before a proper determination of the facts and issues of this case at a coroner's inquiry which is pending. Right-minded Singaporeans would agree that institutional processes should be allowed to take place systematically before conclusions are formed and disseminated. The fabric of society is better safeguarded when disturbing incidents are dealt with reflectively in the right fora and not reflexively in a free-for-all arena.
Naturally, one cannot expect human emotions to be reined in and synchronised with the timeline of inquests, set up to ascertain and test discoverable facts and varying interpretations. Reactions are bound to erupt spontaneously when jarring events occur, typically racing ahead of facts that have yet to be uncovered fully. Minds tend to be focused on the more immediate story of what has happened, with less attention paid to the untold story of what might have happened. In this case, an 11-year-old girl was allegedly molested, with untold trauma from the episode. She was a victim who needed protection, a fact that must not be forgotten.
Given the nature of event-driven responses, there is merit in studying if and how society can deter falsehoods from being circulated ahead of investigations to be conducted by the State as a neutral party. Pinning down such untruths in cyberspace, of course, would be akin to trying to keep a wave upon the sand. Nonetheless, with reference to "deliberate and dishonest attacks" that had surfaced in past weeks, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam told Parliament recently that his ministry would study how the police and other institutions "can respond in future to such falsehoods". Within the rules of sub judice, one might comment on broad principles associated with cases. But to manufacture information to fit a preconceived point of view would be beyond the pale.
One key principle thrown up by the schoolboy's case, that should be discussed, is how the young ought to be interviewed by the police. That protocol is to be reviewed by the Home Affairs Ministry. Certainly, one must take into account offences linked to young suspects - like rioting, sexual assault, physical assault and murder - at one end of the spectrum. Their gravity might tilt the balance between police effectiveness (that many would demand for public safety) and solicitude (that one might seek for a vulnerable person). Sadly, two young lives have been blighted by this episode. The promised review must do right by both.