Parliament: Concern over proposed use of restraints on young offenders

The proposed use of mechanical restraints such as handcuffs and leg braces on young offenders was a concern for two MPs, who asked about its effect during a parliamentary debate on amendments to a Bill yesterday.

Such an act could add to the trauma experienced by a child, and seemed antithetical to the spirit of rehabilitation, said Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC).

Nominated MP Anthea Ong questioned the need for mechanical restraints, calling it "disturbing", given the psychological risks and effects from using physical restraints.

Both MPs were among five who raised concerns or sought clarifications about the Children and Young Persons (Amendment) Bill, while expressing support for it. The debate will continue today.

The Bill had proposed that Ministry of Social and Family Development officers working in youth homes could use these restraints to enhance safety and security, and prevent incidences of escape, self-injury or injury to others.

"In the very same Bill that recognises emotional harm as a form of ill-treatment, a new Section 68A proposes the use of mechanical restraints on children and young persons," said Ms Ong.

Ms Rahayu said: "I'm a little bothered by the possible scenarios and the impact such action would have on the children or young persons restrained".

She asked what the standard operating procedures would be for the use of this power and to prevent its abuse.

On the topic of youth offenders, Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) sought clarification on the placement of young offenders in juvenile rehabilitation centres or reformative training.

The Bill suggests that a young first offender aged 14 to 18 can be sent to reformative training if the Youth Court believes the offender "is of so unruly a character that the offender cannot be safely detained in a juvenile rehabilitation centre or a place of detention".

 
 
 
 

She questioned whether the intention was to require that young offenders who had been through a juvenile rehabilitation centre before and had not benefited be sent for reformative training, or if it was to empower the Youth Court to order reformative training, even if the offender had never been through a juvenile rehabilitation centre.

The second intention would be controversial, said Ms Lim.

Two MPs focused on the enhanced support that the Bill would provide for the young and vulnerable. Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) sought clarifications on the phrases used in specific examples of parental emotional or psychological abuse given in the suggested Bill.

Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) questioned the approach of agencies called in to investigate a case of child abuse. "To me, the main thing is to look at how we can help reconcile the child with the parent," she said.

Goh Yan Han

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2019, with the headline 'Concern over proposed use of restraints on young offenders'. Print Edition | Subscribe