Children of Singapore
Realizing Children’s Rights in Singapore
At first glance, Singapore is an ideal place to raise a child: it is one of the most creative, and most advanced countries in Asia. It has a well developed medical system, the literacy rate is very high, and there are juvenile courts. However, this picture is not as close to perfection as one might believe. Certain things still escape Singapore in terms of its children’s rights, notably concerning child labor, education, and juvenile justice.
Realization of Children’s Rights Index :
Population: 5.46 million
Life expectancy: 82,3 years
Main problems faced by children in Singapore:
Principal problems encountered by the children of Singapore
Although it is true that the majority of children and youth are in school or are enrolled in formal training, some do not have this luck and must work to help support their families. Certainly, there has been an increase in income for most of the citizens which has led to a rapid decline of children who need to work, but this has not eradicated the problem either.
Furthermore, even though Singapore has increased its minimum working age from 12 to 13 years of age, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child believes that this age level is still too young. In fact, it is lower than the age of the child during his or her last year of mandatory schooling (14 years old).
Working children mostly come from poor families and poverty is a well-established cause of this child labor. Very often, they belong to a ‘low’ social class or to a minority group. These children work almost always in low-technology sectors, particularly in those where there is a need for manual labor.
Singapore is known worldwide and is often highlighted as an example of extraordinary economic success. Singapore is known for having become, with very few natural resources and despite its socio-economic problems (racial riots, massive unemployment, housing difficulties, etc.) as one of the most developed and prosperous countries in the world. However, as in any society, poverty is not absent.
Families with low incomes have difficulties in raising their children and are sometimes victims of abuse and poor treatment.
Poverty has a significant impact on the lives of children who often have poor health and are less likely to have access to higher education.
Singapore has invested considerably in its human services and this is clearly visible by the performance of its health system (and its education system – see below).
There is 100% coverage for the city-state by its water and sanitation systems. According to the World Health Organization, the infant mortality rate is minimimal, with only 3 deaths for every 1000 live births in 2009. Life expectancy continues to increase and reached 83.7 years in 2011.
Nevertheless, Singapore is a state where discipline is omnipresent. This has resulted in an inherent sense of competition and seems to be one of the reasons for the suicide rate among children. In fact, a study of 600 children in 2009 by doctors in the Mental Health Unit at Singapore’s Woodbridge Hospital indicated that 22% of children aged 6 to 12 had thought about committing suicide.
As in many developed countries, the obesity rate has reached a high level for the population of Singapore. A program was launched to get children to eat well and to maintain their well being through sports.
Even though the country has the legal framework for the protection of children’s rights, there is still a need to make further progress.
According to the observations of the 2011 United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, the minimum age of criminal responsibility remains relatively high because it is fixed at 7 years old.
Children between the ages of 7 and 16 can thus be punished by beatings, corporal punishment and through isolation. Children younger than 18 years of age can also be condemned to life in prison.
A downfall of the juvenile justice system is that it is relatively new in Singapore, children between 16 and 18 years old continue to be judged by courts as adults.
The Committee was also concerned about cases where children of 8 years old can be prosecuted by a complaint from their parents.
Singapore’s education system is considered as one of the best in the region. In fact, the education facilities in Singapore have improved dramatically since independence. The restructuring of primary and secondary education, combined with the introduction of a system of vocational training, allows children to continue their education until they are 16 years old. Primary school education is free for all Singaporean children and school enrollment for girls, as it is for boys, is about 100%.
However, this near image of perfection hides some gray areas that are related to discipline, to discrimination, and the right of self expression.
In schools, corporal punishment is practiced – especially for boys. This type of practice is difficult to control and measure. The law on the regulation of schools allows physical abuse on the palms of the hands or on the buttocks in order to correct behavior, notably for boys. These types of corporal punishment are used in centers for detoxification, detention centers, and military centers, where all boys are supposed to be trained for two years.
Unfortunately, some forms of discrimination persist, especially against girls, children with disabilities, and non-citizens of Singapore. Data on children with disabilities are very limited and difficult to access. The situation of disabled children is particularly concerning, especially for those older than 6 years old, since compulsory education does not seem to apply to them any more than it does for immigrant children.
Another problem is the right of children to express their opinions. The government uses discipline, which does not encourage children to express their own ideas but rather reinforces their feeling of being constantly bullied.
Fewer and fewer children
Despite the natalist policies launched in the early 1980s and intended to stem the older population, the birth rate in Singapore remains one of the lowest in the world. (1,2 children/woman in 2011).
Several measures have been put in place to encourage couples to have more children.
For example, a clip was launched to try to remedy the situation. In addition, the government, which wants to eliminate this problem at all costs, has launched a dating service and a program called Baby Bonus, which aims to encourage couples to have children. With this program, couples can receive a reward of 5000 to 6000 dollars per child.
Additionally, tax breaks and priority registration are being offered for their children at school to encourage more educated women to have children.