Juvenile Crime: What If Your Child is Arrested in Singapore?

Last updated on July 12, 2023

child in handcuffs

Occasionally, during the journey of growing up, some children might be temporarily led off on the wrong path and find themselves on the wrong side of the law. As parents, you might naturally be worried for and about your children when such a situation arises and might have questions regarding the next steps to take.

This article will answer a few key questions relating to juvenile crime in Singapore such as:

Can a Child be Charged with a Crime?

The Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility (MACR) refers to the minimum age at which a person can be held criminally responsible for his or her actions. In Singapore, the MACR is 10 years of age. This means that a child under 10 years of age in Singapore cannot be held criminally responsible for his or her actions, even if they would otherwise constitute an offence. For example, a 9-year-old child who steals something from a shop cannot be found guilty of theft.

Although the MACR is 10 years of age, children between the ages of 10 to 12 who have not attained sufficient maturity to understand the nature and consequences of their particular offending conduct also cannot be held criminally responsible for their actions.

In this case, it is up to the courts to decide, based on the facts of the situation, whether the child has attained the requisite level of maturity so as to be able to be found guilty of an offence.

Can a Parent be Held Responsible If their Child Commits a Crime?

There is no legal provision for parents to be held criminally responsible if their child commits a crime.

However, if a child aged 14 or older but younger than 16 has been charged with an offence, then under section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA), the Youth Court has the power to order the child’s parents to do the following in place of their child:

  • Where the child or young person is charged with any offence, for his or her parent to give security for his or her good behaviour; or
  • Where the charge against the child or young person is proved, for his or her parent to pay the damages or costs ordered on behalf of him or her.

Additionally, if a child’s acts cause damage, it is generally the case that the child should be sued in his or her own right. However, parents might also be liable for their children’s wrongful actions if they themselves have been guilty of negligence.

For example, if you are out with your child and your child injures an innocent third-party, you might in your own capacity be sued and found liable for negligence for failing to exercise proper supervision over your child.

On the other hand, if your child is making his or her way home from school alone, and injures an innocent third-party along the way, you might not be liable for negligence because you were not present to exercise supervision over your child.

What Can Happen After My Child is Arrested for an Offence?

What happens to your child after he or she is arrested for an offence depends on how old your child is.

Age What happens?
Below 10 years of age, or Between 10 – 12 years of age but not sufficiently mature to understand the nature and conduct of his or her actions. Your child cannot be charged with a crime. Therefore, your child will not be brought before any court.
Between 10 – 16 years of age. Upon arrest:

  • Your child will be brought before the Youth Court immediately, or within 48 hours.
  • You, as the parent, must attend all court hearings.
  • The Youth Court will decide, upon consideration of multiple factors, whether your child may be released on bond.
  • Thereafter, the Youth Court will proceed to determine whether the charge against your child has been proved. This process includes explaining the substance of the offence to your child, asking if your child admits the facts constituting the offence, and hearing evidence of witnesses if necessary.
  • Following which, the Youth Court may call for a probation report prepared by a Probation Officer from MSF to decide on your child’s suitability for probation.) The Youth Court will also discuss the case with the relevant specialists before deciding on the appropriate orders.
Above 16 years of age. Upon arrest:

  • Your child will be brought before a Magistrate’s Court without delay.
  • Thereafter, the court will decide if your child can and should be released on bail or bond.
  • On the date of the trial, the court will proceed to decide if the elements of the alleged offence can be made out, and make the appropriate orders.

As noted in the second row above, the general rule is that children between the ages of 10 and 16 will be charged and tried by a Youth Court. However, there are exceptions to this rule.

  1. First, when the child is being charged with an offence triable only by the High Court, the child or young person will be brought before the High Court, and not the Youth Court. Such offences are usually serious offences such as murder, drug trafficking, kidnapping and rape.
  2. Second, where a child is charged alongside someone else who is above 16 years of age, both of them will be brought before the appropriate court, not the Youth Court.

Additionally, it was noted above that parents will have to be present at the court hearings involving their children. However, because the law does not require that parents be present when a child or young person is arrested, you might still be worried that you cannot be there with your child during the pre-trial investigation processes.

To provide support for young suspects, the Singapore Children’s Society manages the Appropriate Adult Scheme for Young Suspects scheme, where an independent and trained adult will accompany young suspects under 16 years old to law enforcement interviews. During the interviews, this adult will provide emotional support and render assistance in communicating information to and from the young suspect.

What Happens If My Child is Found to be Guilty of Committing a Crime?

If your child is found to be guilty of committing a crime before the Youth Court, an order will be made, as will be further discussed below.

It is worth noting that the law emphasises that the words “conviction” and “sentence” are not to be used in relation to children and young persons before the Youth Court. This is so that a child or young person found guilty of an offence would not be stigmatised by having a conviction to his or her name, or by being considered to have been sentenced.

Will my child’s name be published in the newspapers?

Sections 84A and 84B of the CYPA provide that no one is allowed to publish or broadcast any information that identifies or is likely to lead to the identification of any child or young person who is under investigation, or who is involved in any court proceedings. This includes information such as the name, address, school, picture, or any other particulars of the child which could lead to the child’s identification.

Naturally, this also covers publication of such information in the newspapers, so newspapers are not allowed to publish details that could lead to the identification of your child. If a newspaper publication is found to have published or broadcasted information of the nature above, the court can order the newspaper publication to remove the information immediately.

Any person involved in the publication of the information, be it the editor, publisher, or distributor, can also be held liable for an offence and fined for not complying with the restrictions above.

Will my child go to jail?

If your child is under the age of 14, he or she will not be sentenced to imprisonment for any offence committed. If your child is between the ages of 14 and 16, he or she would generally not be sentenced to imprisonment either. Instead, depending on the severity of the offence, the Youth Court is able to make an order for your child to be:

  • Required to perform up to 240 hours of community service;
  • Placed under probation for between 6 months and 3 years;
  • Detained in a place of detention (such as a boys’ or girls’ home) for up to 6 months;
  • Sent to a juvenile rehabilitation centre for up to 3 years; or
  • Sent to a reformative training centre, if your child is currently between the ages of 14 and 16, and has previously been sent to a juvenile rehabilitation centre.

Your child may generally be imprisoned for an offence only if he or she is of so unruly a character that imprisonment might be more appropriate instead of detention in a place of detention or a juvenile rehabilitation centre.

These orders could be on top of any order the Youth Court might make for you or your child to pay a fine, damages or costs, as mentioned in an earlier section. The purpose of such orders is to assist your child in rehabilitation, but also to impose some sort of punishment for the wrongful conduct that has been committed.

However, if your child has been found guilty of committing certain grave crimes, like murder, culpable homicide not amounting to murder or attempted murder, or voluntarily causing grievous hurt, and the court determines that none of the orders above are suitable, the court may sentence your child to be detained for a period within the sentencing guidelines of that particular offence, at a place and on conditions as the Minister for Social and Family Development may decide.

In addition, no matter how grave the crime, no person below 18 years of age can be sentenced to death. If the offence committed calls for the imposing of the death penalty, then the person must be sentenced to life imprisonment instead.

Will my child have a criminal record?

Whether your child will have a criminal record after being convicted of an offence depends on whether the offence that was committed was a registrable or non-registrable offence.

If the offence committed is a registrable offence under the First Schedule of the Registration of Criminals Act, your child may have a criminal record. Such offences include murder, kidnapping, theft and trespassing. On the other hand, minor offences like littering are not registrable and will not leave a criminal record.

However, if your child is subject to an order of the Youth Court for a crime he/she has committed, such as a probation, detention, or rehabilitation order mentioned above, his/her criminal record in relation to that crime automatically becomes spent at the end of the period specified in the order.

Once a person’s criminal record is spent, he/she is deemed to not have such a record. This means that in most situations, your child can lawfully say that he or she has no criminal record.

Lastly, even if your child was sentenced before the High Court instead of the Youth Court, it is still possible for his or her to become spent after a crime-free period of 5 consecutive years, but this is only the case for criminal records for certain less serious crimes such as mischief.

What Should I Do If I Suspect My Child May have Committed a Crime?

If you suspect that your child may have committed a crime, or if your child has been placed under arrest for allegedly committing a crime, it is crucial to provide your child with emotional support. Navigating the criminal legal process can be confusing and difficult, especially for youth offenders. Try to be understanding to show your child that he or she is not alone during this challenging time.

It is also highly advisable to consult a criminal lawyer who will be able to look at the facts constituting the alleged offence, and provide advice as to the next steps to be taken.

For example, the lawyer may be able to advise on. whether your child should admit the facts, or whether it might be better to deny committing an offence and put forth evidence to prove this. Even if the facts are clear that your child is in the wrong, the lawyer can also assist in arguing for the most appropriate orders that the court should make for your child.

You can get in touch with experienced criminal lawyers here.

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