MSF proposes extending Children and Young Persons Act to cover offenders aged 16 to 18

SINGAPORE - A law which aims to support children exposed to abuse, neglect or risk could be extended to cover young offenders from the age of 16 until they turn 18.

The Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA) was first enacted in 1949, and last amended in 2011, to provide for the welfare, care, protection and rehabilitation of children under 16.

It supports children who have committed offences, those who have been abused or neglected by their parents or caregivers and those whose parents are seeking the court's guidance to improve their behaviour.

Currently, offenders aged 16 upwards are treated as adults before the courts until they turn 18.

However the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) announced a proposal on Friday (Feb 8) to extend the CYPA to cover offenders aged 16 to 18.

The MSF said the amendment would allow young offenders, who may lack the cognitive maturity of adults, to benefit from more age-appropriate and rehabilitation-focused options provided by the community and residential facilities.

It said the move would also protect the identity and privacy of young offenders to better facilitate their reintegration into society.

In a statement, the MSF said: "At the same time, while the young offender's rehabilitation is an important goal, public safety is also important. Hence, the CYPA today provides different sentencing options, where appropriate, for young offenders who commit grave offences such as murder."

The recommendation is part of a series of proposed amendments to the CYPA put forward by the MSF for the public to give feedback.

Others include enabling the court to grant a Long-Term Care Order for a child who, in spite of best efforts by professionals and the community, cannot be reunited with the family.

The order authorises a designated person, who is not the child's natural parent or guardian, to make decisions on the child's behalf - such as those about their development, welfare, medical treatment and participation in school activities.

The MSF said it consulted various voluntary welfare organisations and relevant agencies in the children and youth services sector before drawing up the recommendations.

Experts welcome the proposed recommendations. Lawyer Amolat Singh said: "Rehabilitation is still the primary objective for these (young offenders). In the twilight ages between 16 and 18, the youths may have done something in a moment of folly.

"The proposed amendments show that society is more forgiving and willing to throw a lifeline to those in need."

Mr Alfred Tan, chief executive of the Singapore Children's Society, said: "There is evidence to show that with today's complexities and problems, young people need a lot of help, even at 18. Engaging them and developing their life skills through programmes at this age is crucial."

The public can share their views on the proposed amendments via e-mail to consultations@msf.gov.sg by March 21.