Protection orders for children nearly triple

A recent Family Justice Courts annual report shows that the spike in protection orders is partly due to the increase in child abuse cases.
A recent Family Justice Courts annual report shows that the spike in protection orders is partly due to the increase in child abuse cases.ST FILE PHOTO

219 last year, up from 80 in 2015; experts say public more willing to report abuse

The number of child protection orders here nearly tripled from 80 in 2015 to 219 last year, according to statistics from a recent Family Justice Courts annual report.

The spike was partly due to an increase in the number of child abuse cases, which has risen steadily over the last four years. They increased by almost 60 per cent from 551 cases in 2015 to 873 cases last year.

There appears to be greater public awareness of child protection work and the public's responsibility to report any suspected abuse, said the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) in response to queries by The Sunday Times.

These are due to stepped-up public education efforts on family violence and child protection, as well as interest in child protection work, it added.

Last year, MSF received 3,035 reports and inquiries about child abuse, about 50 per cent more than the 2,022 inquiries in 2015.

The ill-treatment of a child - among situations such as child abandonment, neglect, and serious, persistent conflict between the child and his parents - is one factor which warrants a protection order.

Under the Children and Young Persons Act, the court can pass orders for children or young people up to 16 years old. The parent or guardian is then obliged to exercise proper care for and guardianship of the child or young person.

The child or young person may also be committed to the care of a suitable person such as a relative or a place of temporary care and protection such as a girls' or boys' home.

There appears to be greater public awareness on child protection work and the public's responsibility to report any suspected abuse.

Experts speaking to The Sunday Times also said that people are now more willing to report situations of child abuse.

"These informants could be a child's caretaker, school teacher, or someone close to the child," said Mr Alfred Tan, chief executive officer of Singapore Children's Society, which conducts research on child abuse.

Said psychiatrist Lim Boon Leng: "In the past, society was more conservative and did not want to wash dirty linen in public. But now, people feel more empowered to come forward and report these cases."

He said most of the abuse cases he encountered involved fathers who were under the influence of alcohol; parents who used violence to control their children; and parents with mental disorders that resulted in greater irritability, though these were rarer.

Psychologist Carol Balhetchet, who specialises in family, children and youth, said: "There is a fine line between discipline and abuse. Many parents don't realise they are getting into a grey area when they discipline their child, who is vulnerable and therefore an easy target."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 28, 2017, with the headline 'Protection orders for children nearly triple'. Print Edition | Subscribe