The below is a letter sent to TOC for publication. The name of the parent is withheld for privacy of the minor.
After reading the letter from Benjamin Lim’s family on citizen online. I totally understand how they felt and would like to share my story to let Benjamin Lim’s parents know that I admire their strength and courage to speak up.
I’m really sorry that they had to lose a son, in order to have authorities listen to what they had to say.
On 26 February 2014, I had a similar incident happen to me.
At 2.23pm, I received a call on my mobile from my son’s school discipline master informing me that they will be calling the police. They informed me that it was due to an alleged outrage of modesty of a female teacher. I asked the discipline master if it could wait till I got to the school before they did that, and his reply was that they had no control of what the teacher wanted to do which was to call the police.
Later on, when I had a chance to speak to the principal and the discipline master, I asked for an explanation of this, I was told that as the principal of the school it was his job to protect his staff - the teacher. If the job of the school principal, is to protect his adult staff, who protects the 13-year-old child?
At 2.50pm I arrived at the school’s general office and requested to see my son, the Discipline Master came to bring me to a room where my son was. He was being questioned by a police officer and with another police officer taking the statement and three other police officers outside. Unlike Benjamin’s incident, these police officers were all in uniforms and the police cars were marked.
Upon entering the room, I saw my son with his head resting on his arm on the table crying. The amount of tissues next to him showed that he must have been crying quite a bit.
I was told that they were done taking my son’s statement and got him to sign for it in my absence.
If you were a 13-year-old and there were 5-6 police officers present, would you not be afraid and would have admitted to whatever the officers had suggested to you? (especially, when you had no one there to support you?) As an adult, I would be frightened and extremely intimidated let alone a 13-year-old. Why would one require this amount of police officers to pick up a 13-year-old boy from his school in two police cars?
To shorten the story, my son was brought to the police station in the police car handcuffed. ( I had to beg the Investigating officer not to handcuffed him in the school, only when they got into the police car.) After many requests, I was finally allowed to post bail for my son at about 10 pm!! All this while, he was sitting with other offenders in the same cell even though he was only 13 years of age.
These are the facts* that led to the above incident which I managed to find out from my son when we finally made it home.
- My son was in the school canteen just after school hours at 1.50pm, rushing to buy lunch; he has a history of gastric and thus try to eat as soon as he has the opportunity before he starts to get gastric pains. As there was no queue, in front of the drinks stall, many students were jostling to get to the front to buy their drinks. There was some manoeuvring, slight pushing and shoving, as in any typical canteen scene after school at lunch time, particularly in an all-boys school.
- As he was jostling his way forward, the said teacher, was walking past (on his right side and just within an arm’s length). At the point, his hand having swung outwards due to the jostling brushed her buttocks accidentally with the back of his hand, because he was holding his wallet in the hand. She turned around and asked him “Do you know what you have done?”
- My son immediately apologised to the teacher explaining that it was accidental. However, the teacher said, “Even if you are sorry, it is an arrest-able offence, and sorry cannot make up for it.” She then informed him that she was going to report this to his Form Teacher, who subsequently arrived and escorted him to the Discipline Master’s office. Before long, the police arrived, questioned him and arrested my son.
- When asked why he had confessed to the statement he made, he said it was the manner it was suggested to him, and he didn’t have a choice.
- Subsequently, My son was given a warning letter for the offence he confessed to. This is after a few months of having to go to the police station to post bail.
Children have to be protected because they have no formal rights
- Schools need to captain young lives and not put them in jeopardy
- Schools should not protect staff above pupils, but to treat both fairly.
- The child will clearly be traumatized socially, and there is bound to be a lot of rebound in terms of re-socializing him. (We had to have a 14-year-old boy’s death to prove this point)
- There was no proper disciplinary evaluation of both teacher and student before the case was taken to the police?
- The school did nothing to champion the situation and I think this is something that our education system is unaware of and has no idea how to handle given the climate today where we live in a world of cyber bullying etc.
- I had written into Ministry of Education (MOE) to seek answers, only to have MOE ask me to give the principal of my son’s school a call. (My son had by that time moved to another school.) It is extremely frustrating to try to explain to a 13-year-old boy, that even though he had done something accidently, by mistake he was not given a chance to be proven innocent, no benefit of a doubt. He lost all his childhood friends in the process of his moving school.
I’m very thankful that with support and conversations with my son he has not taken it as hard as Benjamin Lim. Whether this incident has any long-term repercussions on his relationships in the future is yet to be seen.
A concerned parent
*note - It would be proper to say that's the account of the son on what transpired instead of being facts of the case.