On August 1st this year, the Government of Singapore published a document which is of highest importance to the Colony as a whole and to each of us as individuals, for it describes the exact measures to be taken by Government to protect our children and young people from both physical and moral dangers. No Catholic who thinks at all can fail to realise how much need we have of such legalisation; and no Catholic can afford to be ignorant of its main points for they are directly connected with God's law of moral responsibility for others, the first of the laws that He revealed to man. In the first chapter of the first book of the Old Testament, when Cain the murderer, was asked by God, "Where is thy brother?" he replied, '"Am I my brother's keeper'?" That is an answer no Catholic can make to God. We are, each one of us, responsible to God for any cruelty or injustice that we have either ignored or not bothered to try to alleviate. And there is much cruelty and injustice to the defenceless. Government rightly tries to alleviate this by making good laws; but the success of those laws depends entirely on the informed co-operation of
Co-operation Depends On Knowledge
Nobody can co-operate in anything without knowledge, so our first duty as catholic citizens is to know and understand the laws which concern us as members of society. And this new law is one of them. It refers to an earlier law, passed in 1949, and called "The Children and Young Persons Ordinance". Briefly summarised that Ordinance provides for the protection of children (those under 12 years) and young persons (those under• 16 years) from cruelty, neglect, abandonment, destitution, and from exploitation by adults either as hired beggars, or as workers if they are employed below the permitted ages or in conditions that violate the terms of the law or do not satisfy the Government Officers (called Protectors) who are charged with seeing that the provisions of the law are carried out.
The Ordinance then deals with the matter of "transferred children" and imposes on anyone- who has charge of such a child the obligation to register the transfer and to obey certain regulations made for the child's protection. It also forbids and imposes heavy penalties for trafficking in children or their sale for n 1oney- ''valuable consideration".
Delinquents Provided For It further establishes Juvenile Courts, a step of which the value has been proved beyond dispute over many years 1~ other countries, and a system of probation by which young delinquents are saved from the moral and mental degradation of imprisonment with men hardened in vice.
It also establishes places of safety or detention where, according to the need, children or young persons may be given shelter, under proper supervision, either for protection or in order that, after. a sound and practical and moral education, they may get a fresh start in life if that is needed.
The publication of August 1st makes Rules for carrying out of the 1949 Ordinance to ensure its careful and just application in all its aspects, pa1t1cularly with regard to the conditions under which children and young persons may be employed (Catholic employers should read this section carefully); to the Wise management of approved schools and homes (lt is good to note that all children in such homes attend the church of which they are members and may be visited by a priest or a minister of religion); and to the working of the probation system and the registration of transferred ch1ldren.
What Is A Transferred Child?
It is to the matter of transferred children that we wish particularly to draw our readers' attention lest through genuine ignorance they may unwittingly break the law. A transferred child is defined by the law as "a FEMALE under the age of 14 years who is living apart from her natural father and mother- with the following EXCEPTIONS:-
One who is living with grandparent, brother, sister or other relatives; or is over 12 years of age, married and living with her husband; or is legally adopted (this means under the Adoption Ordinance) ; or is living with a legal guardian; or is a REGISTERED mui tsai.
(It will be noted that though boys are fully protected under the other parts of the ordinance, no provision is made for "transferred" boys; it' is true that boys are less liable to be badly used than girls, but the writer knows from experience that "transferred" boys do sometimes need legal protection.)
Our Duty - And How To Do It Now the important points here for us as Catholic citizens to know and ACT ON are these :-
First. If we ourselves are in charge of a child who comes under the definition of a "transferred child" given above, we MUST report and register her at the Department of Social Welfare whose officers are Protectors under the law. We must obey all their instructions. with regard to the child and co-operate with them for her welfare.
Secondly. If we have friends or acquaintances whom we know or think are in charge of a "transferred" child but do not KNOW the law and so do not obey it, we MUST explain it to them and encourage them to do their duty.
Thirdly. If we know of any serious ill-treatment or neglect or exploitation of any child, "transferred" or not (though natural children are very rarely abused), it is our DUTY to report it to the Protector. This may take a lot of moral courage; one may fear reprisals or unpleasantness. But Our Lord had the moral courage to turn the traders out of the Temple and He was all alone facing hostile public opinion. Have we not the courage to stand up for justice to a defenceless child, when we have our conscience and the law and all decent public opinion to back us up? And we can rely on the• discretion of the Protector not to reveal the source of his information without our consent. The writer has had sad experience of the brutality of mankind to children and makes this appeal from the heart. A little girl was reecently almost reduced to idiocy by pain deliberately inflicted on her by a woman who was not her relative. The child was given a doll -and her eyes shone for the first time with intelligence. She at once took a box of pins from a nearby desk - and stuck them one by one into the doll's body. She re-enacted in her play her own experience of what happens to little girls- they are tortured. This story is- it breaks one's heart to say so- true and it happened in this country not long ago.
Traffic in Children
Fourthly. The most terrible surely of all plights is that of the little girl or young woman who is the victim of traffic for gain. She is sold from hand to ~and like a bale of goods, and ends up m a house of ill fame where she must work at the vilest of trades and make money- not for her own benefit but for that of the chain of blackguards, men and women, who grow fat on her misery and degradation; and whom too often she joins, when her own youth is passing, buying another little girl on whom she may batten in her turn. This thing is true - here in our land and now.
"Where Is Thy Brother?"
The law has no pity for criminals who so degrade and destroy innocence; nor should we have. IT IS A MOST SACRED DUTY BEFORE GOD AND OUR FELLOW-MEN to do all we can to stop this filthy traffic. One cause of it is poverty and the inability of the girl or her mother to gain a decent living. The answer to that is education and industrial development; we can all help too at least by seeing that no woman is pa1d less than a living wage if we have any say m the matter. The other thing we can and must do is if we have any suspicion at all that such 'a traffic is going on, to report it without delay to the Protector who will act at once. Time is very important in this kind of report.
It is so easy and pleasant to go through life with eyes shut to the misery and vice all round us. But if we do, what answer can we make when God asks us face to face, "Where is thy brother?"
[A similar Ordinance and Rules are in force in the Federation of Malaya.]
The Malayan Catholic Newsletter, October 22, 1950, pg 3