SINGAPORE - About 15 per cent of the 7,200 young people investigated by the police over the last five years were charged, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam told Parliament on Tuesday (March 1).
About 70 per cent were either warned, placed on a guidance programme or had no further action taken against them, while the remaining cases are under consideration.
He told Parliament that between 2011 and 2015, 7,196 young persons were required to assist the police in investigations.
Mr Shanmugam revealed these numbers in his ministerial statement on the case of 14-year-old schoolboy Benjamin Lim, who was found dead on Jan 26, the same day he was questioned by the police for an alleged molestation case.
Mr Shanmugam said charges are brought against young people only when there are "aggravating factors".
These include offences of a serious nature, such as rioting, and if the young person is a repeat offender or had breached the terms of a conditional warning.
Based on the evidence that was available for Benjamin's case, Mr Shamugam said the teenager would have likely received no more than a warning.
It is also unlikely that he would have been charged in court.
The Secondary 3 student from North View Secondary School was alleged to have molested an 11-year-old girl in a lift on Jan 25.
Based on CCTV footage retrieved of the incident, the nature of the alleged molest can probably be characterised as being in the"less serious range", said Mr Shanmugam.
Benjamin's age and the fact that this was his first time would have been taken into account.
The minister also laid out the police's approach when dealing with infringements by young people, stressing that they try to avoid criminalising the young person's conduct where possible.
"It is better to give the young accused, a second chance, and help in rehabilitation," he added.
The police also adopt an expedited process when dealing with young people, Mr Shanmugam said. The protocol is to interview them and then release them to their parents as quickly as possible.
In Benjamin's case, he was released to his mother within four hours of being brought to the police station.
However, Mr Shanmugam warned that the police's relatively tolerant approach should not be seen as a licence for young people to commit crimes.
He said: "If crime rates go up, police may have to react."