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Detainment of pregnant woman during anti-drug operation elicits strong reactions from local netizens

On 14 July, lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam shared a Facebook post by Senior Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Health, Amrin Amin, in which the photograph of an unidentified "36-year-old, mother of 9 young children, 7 weeks pregnant" entering a van could be seen.

Mr Amrin wrote:

"This is the ugly side of drug addiction. Ugly but real. This is why we have to be firm on traffickers. Drugs destroy lives - ours and others.

She was among 95 detained by CNB [Central Narcotics Bureau] on a 6-day anti-drug operation which ended on 13 July 2018. Her family is receiving help from MSF [Ministry of Social and Family Development]."

It is believed that the woman was detained in a raid on 9 July at Circuit Road.

According to Channel NewsAsia, the woman had relapsed into abusing methamphetamine, or colloquially known as "ice", in spite of her pregnancy.

Local netizens seem to disagree with the harsh approach taken by the Central Narcotics Bureau and anti-drug officials, and believe that the current model of punishment is ineffective, instead highlighting the importance of rehabilitation.

The comments on Mr Eugene Thuraisingam's shared post appear to be in stark contrast to the ones on Amrin Amin's original post, with comments on the former's post generally showing empathy and insight instead of adopting a strict hardline stance against people who fall into drug abuse.

Xavier Moniaga thinks anti-drug authorities should probe deeper into why some people fall into substance abuse, and highlights how poor mental health and drug abuse are often inextricably linked, which might be a result of a lack of access to mental healthcare provisions due to poverty:

Sometimes we are drag to the brink of dying thoughts.. And we can't get the right medicine legally to make us right... Then how?

Alvin Phua commented:

Same can be said about alcohol and gambling and many other things that can become social ills. 

The actions of some irresponsible adults doesn’t mean majority will become one when exposed to the same factors. 

Our system to punish far outweighs our immature inability to understand and handle such outcomes.

Ren Yan said:

Look at all the comments in Amrin’s page coming from moral high horses. Most drug addicts and runners and mules were already living in poverty before they picked up the drug habit. It’s more fashionable to trumpet a tough hardline stance, rather than vowing to reduce poverty wherever it may reside. But oh wait, Singapore doesn’t have poor people. And the poor in Singapore are only the miracle meritocratic fairy tales of self reliance.

Kethlyn Gayatiri Koh gave an insightful commentary on how to handle cases regarding substance abuse in a more effective and productive way:

This is what frustrates me...

Reading comments on the post, and finding jerks with their heads stuck so far up their asses commenting about how the children should be taken away from the mother because she is of a bad influence.

Many fail and/or are unwilling to pause to consider what the root cause of the issue is. Rather, they, along with many other Singaporeans are ever so quick to shame, condemn and hurl negativity.

Why is she, he, they taking drugs? Most of the time, it is not because they have too much money. Or too much time in their hands. What is the family going through? What is the individual going through? Are drugs a form of coping mechanism?

While I do agree with strict drug laws, I strongly disagree on condemnation and the death penalty. Lock her behind bars, then release her years later only to find that she's returning to the habits she is familiar with, because what has prison time taught her other than "Boo, you are gonna be punished for your crimes. Shame on you".

If a three-year-old wants to cut something with a knife, many are quick to run up to the child, scold him/her for using the knife, and then they would hide the knife away from the child. As someone who has worked in an cooking academy for young children, we have proven time and again, that children can learn to cut responsibly if we teach them how to use it proper. Why can't the same mentality apply to adults? Denmark's "fix rooms" and Portugal seem to be doing well with that approach.

How should she get out of the habit that she has? Through rehab. 

How should she be a better role model for her children? Through rehabilitation and community support.

Take the children away from her, and she is going to spiral down even more, because who knows if the children are actually the sole reason why she is still alive? Take the children away and we deprive them of the love of their mother. Are we not creating bigger problems out of this?

And what is the purpose of posting the picture of the person? To shame? And we wonder why Singaporeans are so quick to whip out their phones to record or post online instead of helping. Because STOMP used to pay them $50 for it? Because it is better to stand and watch someone die, than to help? Because it is none of your business to help, so better not kaypoh and get yourself into trouble? We are equipping the society with a bystander mentality, without them fully understanding how detrimental shaming can be. Sure, by shaming, we are fully supporting the deterrence approach because then we can "scare" them into not committing the crime again. But do you not realize that most of the time, the families are the ones who feel more ashamed. All of a sudden, they get attacked, their families get attacked, and all forms of privacy for the individual and their family no longer exist. Are we not encouraging families to throw out these people instead of encouraging them to take them in, because that is what they need?

Are we no longer a society that cares for each other?

Ren Yan said:

Singapore views it [substance abuse] as [deserving of] crime and punishment. Not crime and rehabilitation. Still using the model of the public spectacle and shaming.

Nathan Chen wrote:

The government only know how to condemn.

The Singapore government is well-known for its hardline stance on drugs, whereby punishments for possession and consumption, depending on the weight of the drug in question, range from a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment to the death penalty.

Minister of Law, K. Shanmugam, has reiterated the Government's harsh position on drug-related offences multiple times on separate occasions.

In a speech at a United Nations' Assembly on 21 April 2016, he insisted that Singapore "will not soften its drug policies" in response to several nations' call for nations such as Singapore to relax their laws on drug-related offences.

Mr Shanmugam also stated that Singapore would stick with its existing approach, until there is sufficient evidence to prove the effectiveness of an alternative model.

"For us, the choice is clear. We want a drug-free Singapore, not a drug-tolerant Singapore," he said.

On Oct 26 last year in Singapore at a forum on fighting drug abuse, Mr Shanmugam lashed back against death penalty abolitionist groups, saying that the move to push for the decriminalisation of recreational drug use is “reckless, irresponsible, ... a cop-out and ... a step backward”.

He said that the abolitionist groups are too fixated on "romantic" notions of the decriminalisation of drug-related offences.

“What they do not focus on are the thousands of people whose lives are ruined, whose families are ruined, and the undoubted number of deaths that will occur if you take a more liberal approach towards drugs.”

He added that while the death penalty alone does not tackle the root of drug trafficking, it is an integral part of the framework of anti-drug measures in Singapore, as the death penalty will push traffickers to think twice about smuggling drugs into the country, and subsequently reducing the supply of drugs locally.

“We in Singapore, I have said repeatedly, do not take any joy or comfort in having the death penalty, and nobody hopes or wants to have it imposed,” he said.

“We do it reluctantly, on the basis that it is for the greater good of society. Indeed, that it saves more lives. That is the rationale on which we have it.”

On 6 April this year, Shanmugam said that the Government is looking into increasing the effectiveness of the Misuse of Drugs Act, including enhancing the rehabilitation process for persons who are struggling with drug abuse.

Speaking at the inaugural Criminal Bar charity gala dinner organised by the Law Society's Criminal Practice Committee, he said that the Act will also be studied in order to understand the context of persons with drug abuse issues who commit crimes to sustain their addiction, and to better equip enforcement agencies to effectively deal with threats posed by drug-related crimes.

Proceeds from the charity gala went to the Yellow Ribbon Fund, which provides financial aid for rehabilitative services for ex-offenders, as well as support programmes for their family members. But as recent events have revealed, the Yellow Ribbon Programme might not be that inclusive at all.