May 19, 2007

Bala's on a Roll

My ex-boss, Bala Reddy, is getting cleverer and cleverer. This is a good idea.
ST May 19, 2007
Early NS enlistment for some youth offenders
By Tracy Sua

SOME youths aged between 16 and 18 and likely to get into trouble with the law are being packed off to National Service a little earlier than usual.

Between 10 and 15 such boys have been referred by the year-old Community Court to the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) for enlistment.

Community Court Judge Bala Reddy said these boys are not in school or may have dropped out of school. They are also not working, so 'the problem arises because they have nothing to do and are just idling'.

Getting them enlisted earlier would therefore bring 'some form of discipline into their lives at an early stage', he added.

He shared this idea with a group of visiting judges at the Regional Judicial Symposium held here last month.

The Community Court, set up to deal with cases involving youth, the mentally disabled and family violence, among other issues of community interest, had approached the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) to ask that it consider its referrals for early enlistment.

Court spokesman Seeto Wei Peng told The Straits Times that youths who are required to be electronically tagged have the tag removed if they are enlisted early.

This is because being a military recruit already entails staying put in camp, at least in the initial stages, and having their movements restricted.

Offenders who have been ordered to stay in a hostel meant for youth probationers may also have their hostel term shortened in lieu of early enlistment.

Mindef's public affairs director Colonel Benedict Lim said that under the Enlistment Act, the majority of male Singaporeans and permanent residents are conscripted from age 18.

But the Voluntary Early Enlistment Scheme (Vees) will take in boys who are over 16, subject to their being medically and physically fit, and their parents' consent for early enlistment.


simplesandra said...

"They are also not working, so 'the problem arises because they have nothing to do and are just idling'"

I hope Bala Reddy won't flip when some of these youth offenders end up in his son's platoon....

One step closer to Singapore's own "Dirty Dozen"? Oh cynical me. :-)

So that means national service now doubles as a youth rehab centre - or is our armed forces really so short-handed?

Jimmy Mun said...


the scenario you painted is unlikely. BMT recruits are sorted according to their educational level, and these teenage idlers are the lowest of low. After BMT, the NSFs are further specialised according to their education. A male equivalent of elites like Wee Shu Min can very well complete NS without ever dealing with poorer Singaporeans as equals.

My stand on NS aside, I think it is a good idea. Most of these youths are angry because they are unwanted, at home, in school, in the community. Army can make them feel wanted, and give them a sense of belonging. Better yet, they may find their lack of book smarts not a handicap in the army, while their body smarts can make them excellent soldiers. When they gain confidence in themselves, the disciplinary issues will go away.

Or they can continue to indulge in drugs and fist fights (outside of camp) and walk in and out of SAF Detention Barracks.

Anonymous said...

"I hope Bala Reddy won't flip when some of these youth offenders end up in his son's platoon...."

Easily solved if they enlist at different times. Most JC students or poly students have the same enlistment periods.

Anonymous said...

Smart move.

Those boys who are troublemakers will learn discipline and injustice the hard way. I think that the MINDEF will set aside a different company for these punks. Their NS is going to be like in the 1970s, where real tortures reigned. The JC and poly students sort of have an easier life in NS than before. hope so hahah enlisting this coming july.

Elia Diodati said...

Overall, I'm for the idea. My only concern is that such a program ought to be implemented in such a way as for the stigma associated with being a early enlistee be minimized.

Anonymous said...

Put a rifle in the hands of a 16-year old? I hope the first victim will be the white horse son of the bloody Bala. Instead of spending resources for counselling these misguided youth, caught in the temptations of bar-top dancing, casinos and the like, they feed them to the killing machines of commando dunking, naval drownings, and paths of flaky F5 jets in Taiwan. Brilliant.

Anonymous said...

"Put a rifle in the hands of a 16-year old? I hope the first victim will be the white horse son of the bloody Bala."

I really don't know what Bala did to deserve so much hate from you. Do you even know him?

"Instead of spending resources for counselling these misguided youth, caught in the temptations of bar-top dancing, casinos and the like,"

Who said a stint in the army cannot be an experience to guide them? Inspiration may take the form of a platoon sergeant, platoon commander or even a fellow platoon mate. Also, it is kind of a good way to extract those who are "caught in the temptations of bar-top dancing, casinos and the like" and place them in an environment totally devoid of them.

"they feed them to the killing machines of commando dunking, naval drownings, and paths of flaky F5 jets in Taiwan. Brilliant. "

You exaggerate by just naming the isolated cases of deaths in the army. If the army were full of these kind of accidents, none of us guys would still be here.

chwy said...

Anyone remember the spectacular murder-suicide case about 10 years ago?

SAF is not a dumping ground for problem kids.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Either they will be in the SAF at 16, or they will be there at 18.

I don't think it makes any difference to the SAF whether they are there, at 16 or 18.

But I think it can make a difference to their personal lives. Because these are kids who, if left to their own devices, are probably not going to be doing anything constructive between ages 16 and 18. They are neither studying, nor working, and furthermore these are kids who have already proven their ability to get into trouble with the law.

Anonymous said...

I am all for the idea especially if these sixteen year olds are also given normal school education as well< a good idea! Just a question on the Constitution as to how the Judge was able to implement his rulings? How does the Statutes of Singapore work with regards to issues of national level? I am personally quite confused that the Government could approved the pay increases of its ministers and servants and the Judiciary makes no comment

chwy said...

What kind of people will be in charge of these problem kids in the SAF? NSF officers/specialists with 1.5 experience? What qualifications do they have?

Problem kids in SAF simply go AWOL. And as Jimmy Mun has said, they are regular visitors to DB. I have met my fair share of them. They get NO special help whatsoever.

It's exactly what's needed.

Anonymous said...

So, this is it. It's the end for these young troublemakers. All soft approaches failed. No point talking to them. No more "million dollars" ideas to fix them. The society do not want to handle them anymore. All chances are given out or used up.

So, now we ship them to the boot camp early, shave their hair and get them to wear green uniforms. Let the tough army instructors shout Hokkien "words of wisdom" to them. Get them to touch this wall and that wall. Run up and down the hills. Get them to stand in line.

And, hope that they will again become the "favourite sons" of Singapore.

Another experiment in engineering again. Thank you, Bala.

Anonymous said...

I hear friends saying that NS was when some of their platoon mates picked up undesirable habits, such as smoking, drinking, visiting brothels, from their seniors or mates. Would it be suitable to expose 16-year olds to such dangers/temptations esp. when they are still very impressionable? True, they might have already learnt or heard it before but that does not mean extra exposure is suitable.

It would be interesting to conduct a study of former NSmen who were juvenile delinquents in school and how they turned out after going through NS. Did they really turn for the better?

Although this scheme sounds reasonable and novel, prima facie, yet I believe there are still are human and psychological factors to consider, esp considering that they will be the youngest and smallest group in the entire cohort. Anyone who knows that a particular kid is 16 would probably think... "Ah.. must be one of those juvenile delinquents". Sending them off to boot camp without adequate counselling or checks might not prove effective as well.

Why not send them on a tour of prison life or work for community service, e.g. cleaning the houses of the poor, during the two years before they turn 18? Customized sentences, of course...

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Guess I should explain. The Voluntary Early Enlistment Scheme is not new. It has already been there for many years. Any male Singaporean is free to enlist early.

For example, if you have finished secondary school but you can't or do not want to go to JC/poly, you can sign up to enlist immediately. The alternative is that you go and work - but your career is going to be disrupted in one or two years' time anyway because you have to enlist at age 18 .

So the scheme allows you to enlist early, if you choose. It's not a bad idea considering that anyway, you have to do NS sooner or later.

Now - what is happening is that Bala would like to refer problem kids for VEES. Early enlistment is still optional.

The point is that if these problem kids do not choose this route which Bala is recommending, Bala will have no choice but to deal with them under the other alternatives available under the law.

That's Boys Home; Reformative Training Centre; or prison. Not fun. Comes with stigma and bad record too.

Put it this way - would you rather go to Boys Home / RTC / prison .... and THEN do NS after that?

Or just do NS straightaway?

Heheh. To me, the choice is clear.

Lots of these kids are already on probation. They're electronically tagged. What this means is that they've probably gotten in trouble for something like unlawful assembly or fighting or robbery or being a member of a secret society.

Now they have to wear a little electronic tag around their ankles so that the police can monitor their whereabouts. They are supposed to follow certain curfew restrictions such as to be at home between 9 pm and 7 am (instead of being out on the streets with their wayward friends). Often they will also be under orders to see a trained counsellor on a regular basis (usually a senior police officer who acts as a kind of father figure and mentor to them).

Now judges generally make such probation orders if there is some chance that the home environment will be supportive. That's why parents are needed to attend Juvenile Court. Judge wants to talk to them and find out what they are like. Judge usually is more supportive if the parents look like they are sorry for their kids' behaviour, will make efforts to monitor him and guide him and make sure he stays at home between 9 pm and 7 am. Usually there will be a report from an MCDS officer who has also interviewed the parents.

Alas, many of these kids DON'T have supportive parents. Instead you would often find a father in prison; a mother who is alcoholic etc. In other words, the home environment is not supportive for rehabilitation. These parents won't be around to ensure that the kid goes to school or goes to work or at least avoids his secret society friends.

In these cases, the judge will tend to prefer to get the kid out of the home environment. RTC / Boys Home / prison become the alternatives (depending on exact age of offender, and type and number of offences).

Bala is offering an alternative here. Go straight to NS, and none of this need apply.

And again, bear in mind - NS is something you have to do ANYWAY.

By the way, RTC is very siong. I hear that DB in the SAF is modelled on RTC.

So you want to do RTC, and then do NS;

or you prefer to do NS straightaway?

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

The other point I make is that the SAF should not be seen here as a "dumping ground" for problem kids.

The SAF is basically a dumping ground for the entire male Singaporean population. Everyone has to go there, whether you are a problem kid, or Singapore's Youth of the Year, Best Sportsman, top A-level student or whatever,

chwy said...

So SAF is a dumping ground after all?

I think I see the main issue here... You probably don't see the (future) role of SAF the same as I do.

I believe the defence of the nation is best left to professionals. And I mean by having people choose how they can contribute. I want it to be run like one of the top companies in singapore where employers can pick and choose the best and pay like the best. Put the money in technology. (can one man do the work of a platoon?)

BTW, Does the company you work for hire problem kids? I think you should suggest it to your boss :) maybe your company can get some tax credits.

If RTC is not a good enough,reform it, don't push it to NS.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Point is, you have to understand that the "government" is not a single unified person. It is an assorted collection of ministries, stat boards and individuals, each looking after different things and each with different responsibilities, powers etc.

It's not within Bala's power to reform RTC (that would be MHA), or revamp the NS system (that would be MINDEF), or change the laws regarding young offenders (that would be Parliament / MCDS).

All that is within Bala's power is the power he has as a judge, to make certain types of orders with respect to the individuals who happen to end up in his court. What he's trying to do is build a collaboration with MINDEF on certain types of cases, and thereby do something proactive and positive from where he stands.

the virgin undergrad said...

i believe that a similar idea was actually implemented in the '60s and '70s when there was the SAF Boys School which was set up for problem youths. I think it's is sorta like a boys town instilled with military discipline on top of the curricular education they receive.

the problem with that was that the SAF boys school was essentially a regulars' institution since the boys had to sign on in order to enroll into the school. it wasn't long before it became sorta like a dumping ground for unwanted children where callous parents actually sign their kids off without their knowledge in exchange for money. that was probably the reason why it was eventually discontinued.

considering how even the SAF has set a higher bar for its minimum qualifications for regulars now (it's harder to sign on now even if you are an N'levels holder, much less a sec sch dropout)

an early enlistment might be a decent stop-gap measure in the short run, but it is really questionable how much that would help them beyond their NSF days. By enlisting without completing at least secondary education, they're not likely to be able to sign-on even if they wanted to (which frankly in many circumstances is the best alternative to a life of crime which they are very likely to tread down), leaving them none-the-better after ORD.

at least in a boys home -however unconducive it may be- they actually stand a chance to further their education. i guess policymakers really shouldn't overemphasise the impact of NS in instilling discipline over the harsh realities of the demands of the job market.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how passing the buck to MINDEF will be a 'solution'. Granted that some level of routine, regimentation and discipline will be instilled during the delinquent's stay in camp, but will that actually serve to 'change' his character?

And how will the girls be rehabilitated? NCC?

Forcing a rigid style of discipline onto an already troubled teen may have the reverse effect - it may in fact harden his resolve and rebellious streak, especially since the majority of NS regulars are not professional counsellors i.e. they will hardly be best placed to gauge the youths in training.

Furthermore, putting an automatic weapon into such a youth's hand may have detrimental effects on others - more misfires, more weapon related accidents etc...did Judge Bala stop to consider all these issues before sentencing?

Or does he place MINDEF training in very high regard?

Anonymous said...

I like to think that this is a great idea as it happened to my own younger brother too, who enlisted / signed onto the army at the tender age of 16...
He's gotten his own share of being a 'pai gia ah beng' experiences in sec school.
Even though it's his own choice to sign on but then comparing him in his teens & now as an adult, the army has really instilled a great sense of responsibility & discipline into him.
But then again, to each his own...

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

"I'm not sure how passing the buck to MINDEF will be a 'solution'."

If the chap went to NS at age 18, you wouldn't say that anyone is "passing the buck" to MINDEF.

Why then do you say that the buck is being passed, because the chap goes to NS at 16 or 17?

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Understand that the SAF is not there to rehabilitate the youth. In the SAF, he will be treated just like any other NSF.

The main thing is that the youth has already been identified as someone who's probably NOT going to be studying; NOT going to be working; NOT going to be having a supportive family environment; IS likely to be committing crimes,

if for two years he is left on his own.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

" putting an automatic weapon into such a youth's hand may have detrimental effects on others - more misfires, more weapon related accidents etc...did Judge Bala stop to consider all these issues before sentencing? "

Firstly, it is not a sentence. The youth has to agree to enlist early.

Secondly, a 16-year-old with a criminal record will, at the age of 18, still have a criminal record. What do you suggest then - exempt him from NS because of this "automatic weapon" issue?