SINGAPORE - A law which protects young offenders as well as children under the age of 16 exposed to abuse, neglect or risk may be extended to cover those under 18.
The Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA) - first enacted in 1949 and last amended in 2011 - provides for the welfare, care, protection and rehabilitation of children under 16.
It also 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.
Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee introduced a Bill in Parliament on Aug 5 (Monday) to amend the Act to, among other things, extend legal protection to children under 18 years old, with the aim of enhancing care for them.
The ministry also proposed to introduce an Enhanced Care and Protection Order under the law, a court order that authorises a person other than the child's natural parents or guardians to care and make decisions for the child.
This is to help maintain stable and long-term care arrangements if the Court has assessed that it is not in the best interest of the child to reunite with his family.
This could be because the family is not able to care for the child without risking his safety and the child has remained in an out-of-home-care cumulatively beyond a specific duration.
The Order will provide the caregivers with powers to make decisions for the child which would otherwise require parental consent, so that decisions crucial for the child's development can be made without delay, the ministry said.
Caregivers will be able to make day-to-day decisions such as arrangements for transportation and meals.
However, as a safeguard, caregivers would still need to get permission from the authorities or, in some cases, the court, before going ahead with more important decisions such as healthcare or education-related matters.
This safeguard is meant for more sensitive and significant decisions, such as surgery or a name change.
The Order, which can last until the child turns 21, gives him certainty and provides a stable arrangement to help the child recover, said the ministry.
Other proposals include extending childcare-leave benefits to foster parents.
Currently, foster parents who work need to take their own leave to care for their foster children, even when the children need to see a doctor or a therapist, to work through possible developmental delays or trauma from abuse.
There are about 510 foster families in Singapore.
To give youth offenders who turn over a new leaf a second chance, the law may be changed so a youth's criminal record can be considered spent when he completes certain Youth Court Orders.
This means the youth can lawfully declare that he has no criminal record.
These Youth Court Orders include Juvenile Rehabilitation Orders, Community Service Orders, Detention Orders, Probation Orders and Orders to pay fines.
The Bill also seeks to further protect the identity of the child.
Currently under the Act, the identity and privacy of the child are protected if he is under 16.
With the change, the identity of a child under 18 remains protected as long as he does not commit a further offence when he is older.