By Vincent Law
From a social work practitioner’s perspective, in the child’s best interests, Amos Yee is just another at-risk youth being put through due process of the law. It would have been an ordinary day in the life for anyone working with such youths. No fuss really.
Unfortunately, the mainstream media decided to pounce on a thin, frail 17-year-old youth, hounding him and splashing his pictures on print and screen. On the other hand, another 17-year-old who was arrested for a different crime was not named. Had this happened in other developed countries, the media would have afforded a teen like Amos the anonymity accorded under the UNCRC.
Worse still to come were the extraordinary bail conditions being imposed on him. He was ordered to take down the alleged offending video and blog posts and gave an undertaking “that he will not post, upload, distribute or by any other means cause to be made visible or available any comment or content, whether directly or indirectly, to any social media or online service or website, while current case is ongoing”.
This was, in addition, to the usual standard conditions of the bailor “to remain in constant contact with the accused and be aware of his movements so as to ensure his compliance” and “to keep in daily communication with the accused and lodge a police report within 24 hours of losing contact with him”.
This placed an unnecessary burden on the bailor and made it insufferable for Amos, and subsequently resulted in him breaching the bail conditions – not once, but twice. Since he was unwilling to comply with the same unjustifiable onerous conditions when offered bail a third time, he went back into remand.
After the court had found him guilty of two charges, the judge ordered that he be given a pre-sentencing report for probational suitability, dropped all previous onerous bail conditions and lowered the bail amount from $30k to $10k. The drastic turnaround could not have been more disconcerting.
In Singapore, the Youth Court adopts a philosophy of restorative justice in family and juvenile justice matters . Much has been done to advance the family justice system prioritising children protection, interests and safety as reflected in the CYPA (Children and Young Persons Act) and the CRC (Convention on the Rights of the Child) framework. This is laudable.
One wonders why, then, probation under the Youth Court dealing with young offenders, was not an option for Amos right from the start? Why were the onerous bail conditions imposed on him when the standard conditions would have sufficed?
Indeed, the cry for help from Amos’ mother the morning before he was arrested, when she made a police report pleading for assistance appeared to be ignored. Under normal circumstances, helping agencies would have been alerted and the family referred for follow up and assistance by the police. Was there an oversight?
One of the main reasons Amos was bailed the second time was to get him properly assessed, but the earliest appointment given by the health institution clashed with his pre-trial conference date. Efforts to try to bring forward the appointment were rejected by the institution, presumably with good reason.
In any case, had the authorities not overreacted, had the media reported with more restraint, had the prosecutors opted for Amos to be tried at the Youth Court as a young offender instead of the State Court, and social support given to the family along with immediate psychological assessment proffered, any criticisms would have been been baseless.
Furthermore, Amos had refused to meet the probation officer, hence no suitability for probation report could be submitted to the court. He is in remand for a third time to be assessed for suitability for RTC. There was no deterrent effect. And the child’s best interest was certainly not taken into consideration.
“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The above comments are Mr Law’s personal observations and reflections and do not represent any organisation’s view.