ST Feb 15, 2008What kind of parents wouldn't send their children to primary school?
Refuse to send your kids to school? Govt may step in
MOE may consider taking parents of six children to court if they do not respond to counselling
By Theresa Tan
THE Education Ministry (MOE) may have to consider court action against some parents who have refused to send their children to school.
The six children involved have stopped school for some time, or only show up for classes from time to time despite extensive counselling and mediation.
If the ministry presses charges, it will be the first time it is doing so under the Compulsory Education Act, which was implemented in 2003.
The Act stipulates that anyone who fails to ensure that his child attends school shall be guilty of an offence.
If convicted, the person may be fined up to $5,000 or jailed up to a year, or both.
The authorities say they may have to consider using 'penal sanctions' because of the parents' poor response to counselling efforts by the schools involved and the Singapore Children's Society, a charity engaged by the ministry to counsel parents who do not enrol their children for Primary 1 classes.
In some cases, social workers have been trying to change the parents' minds for the last three years, but have come up empty.
When contacted by The Straits Times, the Children's Society said it was not authorised to give more details about the six cases.
But according to the ministry, there are several reasons why the children are 'not attending school regularly or stopped attending school for some time':
They come from dysfunctional families.
They have indifferent or lax parents.
They also may be influenced by older siblings who are school dropouts.
Opinion was divided on whether charging the parents would solve the problem or make matters worse.
Many kinds, actually. Let's see. Daddy could be dead, in jail, schizophrenic or completely broke. Mummy could be suicidal, alcoholic, disabled or regularly getting beaten up by her lovers. Or any permutation of the above.
So the kids have a big problem and it isn't the kind that is necessarily solved by fining or jailing one or both parents for not sending the kids to school. In fact, criminal punishment could well make things worse.
When I was a Deputy Public Prosecutor, I had sneak peeks into many lives of dark and quiet desperation. There are many people out there with huge personal problems, and some of them would end up in police files, and so I saw my fair share of them.
Today, as I type this, I recall one particular case of mine that crossed my desk many years ago. The man had been arrested for drug trafficking, following a dramatic CNB raid on his HDB flat. He, like his lover, was a drug addict.
The woman was pregnant. We had some suspicion that she too was a drug trafficker, but the evidence was too weak and so we proceeded on consumption and possession charges against her. As she was a repeat offender, she would be spending a long time in jail.
Whatever happened to that baby? Did the woman eventually give birth in prison? Who looks after babies whose mothers are still convicts? And if the baby was born at all, was it born normal? Or was its health permanently damaged by its mother's heavy drug abuse?
I don't know. I get sneak peeks, that is all, into these other lives. I read the police files, I appear in court, I prosecute my cases. Then I close the file and I move on with my own life, just as everyone else has to move on. Criminals and victims included.
That baby, if it had been born and if it had survived, should be a 7-year-old child by now. Time for primary school. Dear baby, do you even know your mother's name?