Published: 15 January 2019
1. Mr Deputy Speaker,
2. I thank the Members who have spoken. Many of them strongly support Singapore’s comprehensive anti-drug strategy. I thank them for their views and their support as we continuously enhance our enforcement efforts, calibrate rehabilitation approaches towards drug abusers and penalise actions which can lead to the spread of drug abuse.
3. The amendments to the MDA are significant and I will like to first touch on the areas which relate to how we are better protecting our children and youths from the dangers of drug abuse.
New Offences to Better Protect our Children
4. Members have shown strong support for the creation of new offences relating to the exposure of children to drugs and permitting young persons to consume drugs. Mr Chris de Souza reminded us about the episodes which happened last year, where a one-year-old boy was rescued from suspected drug traffickers after his caregiver left him in their care. Where a four-year-old girl was discovered with her mother, within reach of sachets of methamphetamine within easy reach. And, a three-month-old girl found in a unit with a suspected drug trafficker and drug abuser and preliminary investigations showing that Ice was abused during pregnancy and after the child was born. These are all shocking, sad and true. We need to move quickly to protect our children and prevent tragedies from happening.
5. Dr Intan asked whether aside from the abuser, other adults in the household will be implicated if drugs are found within a child’s access in the home. CNB will carry out due investigations to establish the ownership of the drugs found in the household. Any adult who is in possession of the illicit drugs and knowingly or recklessly leaves the drug exposed, knowing that the child is likely to have access, may be prosecuted for this offence.
6. Professor Theseira asked why we have decided to take this strong stance, given the alternatives and trade-offs. In the cases that Mr Chris de Souza had cited, this is what our officers see on the ground – young children found in drug dens. They were put in danger, some by their own parents. Others, passed around among caregivers who were either drug abusers or traffickers.
7. Paraphrasing what Dr Intan said – as adults, we cannot ignore our responsibility towards our children. This is regardless of means or wealth. There is a basic baseline safety that must be upheld and children from all backgrounds are deserving of that same protection.
8. Professor Theseira asked why we decided to create this specific provision in the MDA rather than rely on other Acts. This is because of the specific trends and issues we have observed in the course of drug enforcement. The provisions in the Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA) for instance, require that the offender has a custodial relationship with the child. Whereas in the cases that we see, there are scenarios such as a parent leaving his child at a friend’s house. The friend then abuses drugs, and the child is exposed to the drugs left openly around.
9. Under the CYPA, the friend may not be liable, having no relationship with the child, even though his behaviour has put the child in danger. The MDA hence provides specifically for such permutations of scenarios on the ground, and the punishments correspondingly reflect the great capacity for harm that drugs can have, especially on children.
10. Professor Theseira has valid concerns about how this ultimately works towards the welfare of the child. The purpose of section 11B is first and foremost for deterrence, as we do not wish to see innocent children harmed because of the bad choices others make. Nevertheless, please rest assured that our enforcement agencies will also work together with the AGC, MSF and other relevant authorities to assess how to best safeguard the family’s welfare.
11. To answer Mr Melvin Yong’s and Ms Anthea Ong’s question on the age cut-off of 16 years old, section 11B(1) is intended to protect younger children who may not understand the dangers of drugs, and are at higher risk of accidental ingestion.
12. That said, we are concerned about older youths as well, and as Mr Melvin Yong observed –more liberal attitudes, combined with easy access to drugs, means that they may be more likely to give in. Hence there is also a section 11(B)(2), which makes it an offence for an adult who permits, or does not take reasonable steps to prevent, a young person under 21 from consuming illicit drugs in the adult’s possession.
13. As Mr Faisal Manap has mentioned, education about these offences are important and raising general awareness will help deter such irresponsible actions. We will continue to educate all members of the public through our various preventive drug education platforms.
Compulsory counselling for parent/guardians of youth abusers
14. Next, to support youth drug abusers and get them to turn over a new leaf, the support of their parents and guardians is critical. On the topic of compulsory counselling for parents/guardians of youth drug abusers who are under CNB’s supervision order, Ms Anthea Ong and Dr Intan have asked for further details.
15. CNB has worked with social service providers to structure the counselling programme. It consists of a minimum of 25 sessions and lasts up to a year – it will differ for each abuser and this is calibrated to the abuser’s, and his family’s specific needs. Some sessions will involve only the youth abuser, some only the parents, and others are joint sessions.
16. Each family is different, hence the rehabilitation process must have the flexibility to cater to the unique circumstances and needs of these different families. Sometimes the counsellors need to counsel the parents privately, to address complex issues affecting their child.
17. As the Minister mentioned earlier, parents/guardians today are already required to attend the counselling sessions, just that some persistently absent themselves. Hence we have now made clear in the MDA that they have a legal responsibility to attend counselling, which is key to supporting their child’s or ward’s rehabilitation. Failure to do so will be an offence and we intend for this to come into force by first half of this year.
Rehabilitation Approach for Young Abusers
18. Dr Chia Shi-Lu and Mr Desmond Choo had asked whether the focus on rehabilitation and the perceived lack of penalties may encourage more young abusers to experiment.
19. Mr Deputy Speaker, our criminal justice system places a lot of focus on youth rehabilitation because as far as possible, we want to give them a chance to turn over a new leaf, so that they do not ruin the rest of their lives.We want to intervene early and effectively, to allow them to continue to study and be with their families where possible.
20. I would like to assure Dr Chia Shi-lu and Mr Desmond Choo that currently, youth abusers already undergo specialised risk-based interventions and this does not change under the amendments. For youth abusers under 21 years old, we have the Youth Enhanced Supervision for low-risk abusers. We have the Community Rehabilitation Centre for moderate-risk abusers, and we have the DRC for high-risk abusers. So it is not that experimentation with drugs is cost-free for the young.
21. I also want to emphasise that we are not becoming more permissive about drugs. Drugs come at a high cost to society, and suffering behind every abuser is a family. We have no reason to go soft, and we must not. What we are doing is keeping abreast with new research and developments, to inform and refine our approach, to help us better achieve our aim of reducing overall drug abuse.
22. Even as we undertake these new initiatives to better protect our children and youths, we must guard against individuals who undertake contaminative practices, to spread the use of drugs and cause others to abuse drugs. They can harm not only our young but also others.
23. On the introduction of contamination offences, Er Lee Bee Wah asked whether someone replying to another person’s question about manufacturing drugs constitutes a contamination offence.
24. This depends on the context in which the question is asked, and also the answer given. The proposed section 11(D)(1) requires that the person who provides the information knows, or has reason to believe, that the recipient intends to carry out the manufacturing.
25. It is also not intended to target the provision of information for legitimate purposes or licensed activities, for example – staff in a pharmaceutical company licensed to manufacture medication, providing information to each other as part of the manufacturing process
26. The Minister has explained earlier that we have provided for defences in the Act, and subsidiary legislation will set out the scope of authorised activities.
27. There is also a lot of information on the Internet on carrying out drug activities. While we cannot police the whole Internet, if a person in Singapore disseminates or publishes such information online, without any legitimate purpose, he can be investigated for an offence under section 11(D)(2).
Addressing Rehabilitation and Post-release support
28. We are now building upon the success of past efforts in addressing re-offending. The Taskforce on Drugs was formed in October 2011. Chaired by then-Minister of State for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs Mr Masagos, one of the key recommendations was the implementation of a structured aftercare regime with more scaffolding for offenders’ tighter supervision and enhanced community support
29. The Mandatory Aftercare Scheme (MAS) was piloted in 2012 and operationalised in July 2014. Under the MAS, higher-risk offenders, including LT inmates go through structured stepdown interventions like compulsory counselling, case management, and supervision.
30. It has only been a few years since the MAS was implemented but the results are encouraging. The two-year recidivism rates for long-term offenders have come down from 38 per cent for the 2012 release cohort to 27 per cent for the 2015 one.
31. Ex-inmates have also provided feedback that having counsellors and officers walk with them in their re-integration journey has helped them stay accountable and provided them with a source of support when they struggle with life outside. Given how instrumental post-release support is in helping repeat offenders turn over a new leaf, we are doing more on this front, including increasing post-release supervision for abusers to a maximum of five years.
32. Mr Desmond Choo asked whether the DRC length is too short and Er Lee Bee Wah also asked how we determine when a person no longer requires supervision.
33. CNB and SPS track the person throughout his detention, Community Based Programmes phase as well as the supervision phase. What Mr Desmond Choo mentioned are rough indicative ranges but each individual is different – so their own risk and progress will determine the length of each phase.
34. If the person shows very slow and poor progress, he may be detained for up to four years in DRC for rehabilitation, coupled with five years of supervision. Regular reviews are done to assess rehabilitation progress. It is a step-down approach – as he shows improvement and stays clean, he can be considered for progressively lower frequencies of urine/hair testing until he is assessed suitable for release from his supervision.
35. The journey is difficult and ultimately, the ability of the person to stay clean depends on his own resolve. But we are doing more to provide support where we can.
36. In that respect, Mr Pritam Singh, Mr Murali, Er Lee and Ms Joan Pereira have asked whether there is adequate support and training for counsellors. All of SPS’ correctional rehabilitation specialists possess qualifications in relevant disciplines and SPS also provides on-the-job training. It is a very meaningful, rewarding but challenging calling, thus there are also senior staff there to provide guidance and help them avoid burnout.
37. SPS also has an in-house team of psychologists they can turn to, for mental or emotional support. The SPS has also collaborated with the Social Service Institute to introduce training modules last year that will help build up capabilities of case managers and counsellors.
38. As several members have noted, all these rehabilitation initiatives can be resource-intensive but we use digital technology to help where possible –and the app and video-conferencing initiatives mentioned by Mr Mohamed Irshad will go a long way to benefitting inmates, including drug offenders.
39. Mr Chris de Souza and Mr Louis Ng provided other good suggestions for inmates such as having more open visits, providing them with more workbooks and healthy physical activities, and providing them with more support during the initial incarceration phase. These are some of the good practices SPS has already put in place, and they will continue to work on them.
40. Mr Melvin Yong also spoke about early interventions for abusers’ families. We recognise the importance of families to the rehabilitation process, and hence the SPS will be restructuring family programmes in the prisons and working with MSF to identify inmates’ family needs early, provide intervention, and increase family involvement in inmate rehabilitation.
41. We will also continue working with community partners to ensure that abusers’ children who are at-risk are referred to the proper channels for assistance and counselling where required.
42. Mr Deputy Speaker, in Chinese please.
43. 议长先生，“滥用毒品法案”的修改是重要的。在修改中有很大一部分是关于如何保护我们的儿童和青少年，让他们远离毒品。刚才Mr Chris De Souza在演讲中提到的例子，让人震惊，让人难过，而这些真实的事件就发生在我们的身边。因此，修改后的法案规定，如果有成年人持有违禁药品、并有意或无意地让孩童接触这些药品，将被视为违法；而且，如果有成年人持有违禁毒品，但不采取合理的措施预防年轻人吸食这些毒品，也将被视为违法。
46. 李美花议员和毕丹星议员刚才强调，要保证监狱辅导官有足够的资源，同时也照料到他们的心理状况。这些也是我所强调的重点。除此以外，我们也必须抵御外来毒品宣传的影响, 并帮助那些受到个人不良影响的人，防止更多人吸食毒品。
48. SPS Amrin will now be addressing some of the other issues that Members have raised.
49. Thank you.
Translation of Chinese portion
Mr Deputy Speaker,
43. The amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act are significant. There is a sizable section in the amendments that is devoted to protecting our children and our youths from drug abuse. The examples Chris De Souza brought up early in his speech are shocking, sad and true. The new amendments to the MDA will thus make it an offence for an adult who possesses illicit drugs to knowingly or recklessly leave it within the access of a child. It will also be an offence for an adult who does not take reasonable steps to prevent a young person from consuming illicit drugs in the adult’s possession.
44. Our children are innocent. We cannot allow them to have their lives ruined just because of the bad choices adults make with regards to drugs or their irresponsible behaviour, leaving the children in the care of care-givers who are drug abusers or drug traffickers. The new offences will prevent these tragedies from further happening.
45. We are also ensuring better support for youth drug abusers and helping them turn over a new leaf, by making it compulsory for parents/guardians of youth drug abusers, who are under CNB’s supervision order, to attend counselling. Family support is important in our rehabilitation efforts for drug abusers. For inmates, the Singapore Prisons Service will continue to work with families and also the MSF to identify the needs of families, provide intervention and increase family involvement in inmate rehabilitation.
46. MP Lee Bee Wah has highlighted the importance of ensuring adequate resources for the prison counsellors and also their psychological well-being. These are important points which I have addressed. But we must also guard against the external influences which propagate the use of drugs and also the insidious influences individuals can have, leading to more people taking drugs.
47. The introduction of contamination offences moves to stem this. We share MP Lee Bee Wah’s concerns about the availability of info on drugs online. And that is why Singapore has a comprehensive harm prevention strategy against drugs where preventive drug education is our first line of defence, then coupled with tough laws and vigorous enforcement against drug traffickers and structured rehabilitation and supervision to help abusers kick the drug habit.