Child abuse cases in Singapore continue to rise after hitting decade-high in 2020

The Ministry of Social and Family Development's Child Protective Service investigated 2,141 cases of abuse in 2021. PHOTO: TM FILE

SINGAPORE - There was a sharp spike in the number of child abuse cases investigated by the authorities in 2021.

This follows the rise in 2020, which saw the highest number of cases in a decade, according to data from the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

The MSF's Child Protective Service (CPS) investigated 2,141 cases of abuse in 2021, 63 per cent more than the 1,313 cases in 2020.

Neglect cases numbering 910 made up the bulk of the investigations in 2021 and saw the sharpest rise from 2020, more than doubling from 375 cases that year. Cases of neglect include those where children were poorly supervised or experienced emotional abuse or medical neglect.

Mr Desmurn Lim, director of charity Montfort Care’s Big Love programme, told The Straits Times previously that some neglected and underfed children injured themselves when they tried to do chores, or cook for themselves.

Child sexual abuse cases also jumped 70 per cent from 261 cases investigated in 2020 to 443 cases in 2021 - an 11-year high.

Physical abuse cases rose by 16 per cent, from 677 cases investigated in 2020 to 788 cases in 2021.

MSF said more cases were investigated because there were more referrals from CPS' community partners such as family service centres, schools and child protection specialist centres.

CPS deals with more serious cases, such as parents who fail to provide adequate food, clothing or medical care for their children, or deliberately inflict serious injuries on them.

The number of inquiries received by CPS also increased by 25 per cent from the year before, though these calls include those that may not involve cases of actual violence.

This increase was mainly due to more outreach efforts and public awareness of family violence, MSF said. More people are calling the National Anti-Violence Helpline on 1800-777-0000 - a 24-hour helpline for people to report family violence, as well as cases of abuse and neglect.

Ms Shailey Hingorani, head of research and advocacy of the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), said that in 2021, its sexual assault care centre saw 18 per cent out of 856 cases where the victim faced sexual abuse as a minor - below 16 years old. 

The percentage of child sexual abuse cases the centre sees has remained fairly constant over the past five years, hovering between 15 per cent and 20 per cent of total cases, she said. 

She added that the cases include adults who are getting support for experiences that they faced in their childhoods. 

“The increase in numbers drives home the importance of comprehensive sexuality education,” she said, citing reports of child sexual abuse survivors realising that they were experiencing inappropriate treatment only after taking sexuality education classes in school. 

“This speaks to how we might be able to both bring child sexual abuse to light and also prevent it from happening.” 

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.