What Amos Yee is going through is far bigger than just one boy

By Kirsten Han | SingaporeScene

Kirsten Han is a Singaporean blogger, journalist and filmmaker. She is also involved in the We Believe in Second Chances campaign for the abolishment of the death penalty. A social media junkie, she tweets at @kixes. The views expressed are her own.

I arrived at the State Courts on Friday just in time to see journalists pouring out of the courtroom, following a Deputy Public Prosecutor into a media huddle. He was going through the conditions of Amos Yee’s bail, now transferred from police to court bail. His parents had not yet decided whether they were going to post bail this time.

Friends who had been in the courtroom told me that Amos had been whisked out of his closed pre-trial conference in handcuffs. The whole thing had been so quick that he hadn’t even had a chance to look up and see that people he knew were there for moral support.
The major events have since been reported in the media. Amos is spending the weekend in remand. No one has yet come forward to bail him out. The bail conditions are difficult for a 16-year-old: reporting to a police station every morning, undertaking not to post or distribute any content online for as long as his case is ongoing (which could be some time). It’s a challenge not just for the child, but also for the bailor.
Everyone has an opinion on this case – everyone has something to say about Amos, his parents, his video and blog posts. There are rumours and speculation everywhere, and the case has become, pretty much inevitably, politicised.

Yet there are many separate issues at play here, and in the drama and emotive reactions to a potty-mouthed 16-year-old’s video, many of these issues have not received the examination they deserve. The implications go way beyond Amos Yee – there are aspects of this case that concern all Singaporeans.

One might find Amos offensive. One might find him annoying, rude, arrogant, vulgar and disrespectful. One might thoroughly dislike him. One might actively choose to avoid him if caught in a social situation together. And that’s perfectly fine. No one is required to like Amos.

But all of that is completely separate from the fact that in Singapore, you can be reported and arrested for being offensive and annoying and rude and vulgar and disrespectful. That you can be charged for harassment despite the fact that no one was forced to watch your YouTube video (everyone who was distressed by the video could have, at any point, closed the browser and gone on with his or her life). That it can be a criminal offence, in Singapore, to say things that people don’t like to hear.

There are implications for freedom of speech here that we as a society have yet to really question and explore.

On top of that, this case has thrown up points of concern related to the way we treat youths. Although the United Nations considers those below 18 to be children, and therefore in need of protection even when they have fallen foul of the law, Singapore sees children as those below 14, and those above 14 and below 16 as young persons. As a 16-year-old, Amos is therefore old enough to be tried as an adult, slapped in handcuffs and hustled away. He is now in remand – probably not in a juvenile section – and might have to sit in there for some time.

Apart from the problems of using handcuffs on minors, is this really a proportional response to a YouTube video? Can we really, hand on heart, look at this treatment of a teenager and say that this is a rational, mature reaction?

And that brings me to yet another issue: how do we, as Singaporeans, react to things that we don’t like? Do we walk away? Do we engage each other to debate our perspectives? Are we willing to admit the existence of views we don’t like – even views we find abhorrent – because we believe in bigger principles of freedom and expression?

Or do we just stamp our feet and appeal to authorities to remove what we don’t like? Do we prioritise our desire to never be challenged or offended above someone else’s right to speak his or her mind?

From Amos’ case – judging by the vindictiveness of some adults in wanting to see a kid go down – it appears that despite 50 years of education, progress and development, we’re still in the latter category. Decades of nation-building have not taught us to engage and to talk, only to appeal to authority to fix things that are hard for us to take. Years of education and exposure to the wider world have not taught us to respond with grace to things that we strongly disagree with; we still insist that everyone conform to a narrow band of opinion and feeling, that there are “right” ways to think, “right” ways to speak, “right” ways to act.
If this is true, then we have far bigger problems than Amos Yee



Appeal to International Children Agencies to Denounce Political Persecution of Amos Yee

Appeal to International Children Agencies to Denounce Political Persecution of Amos Yee.

“On 29 March 2015, a 16-year-old boy Amos Yee was arrested and charged on 31 March 2015, just two days later, after he made a video which criticised the late first prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew. Amos also spoke about the high income inequality in Singapore and attributed it to the first prime minister as well.

Amos was charged with three charges. For one of them, the first prime minister’s supporters said that the video “contained remarks about Mr Lee Kuan Yew which was intended to be heard and seen by persons likely to be distressed”.

More importantly, Amos was also charged as an adult in the State Court. He was not charged in the Juvenile Court for children.

After Amos was charged, he was put on bail for $20,000. The terms of his bail are excessive. He is not allowed to post, upload, distribute or by an other means cause to be made visible or available any comment or content, whether directly or indirectly, to any social media or online service or website.

In addition, he is now being held in remand, and has been in prison for four days now.

I would like to highlight that Singapore is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

Under the convention, Singapore is required to look for other measures “without resorting to judicial proceedings,… such as care, guidance and supervision orders; counselling; probation; foster care; education and vocational training programmes and other alternatives to institutional care shall be available to ensure that children are dealt with in a manner appropriate to their well-being and proportionate both to their circumstances and the offence.”

However, after Amos was arrested, he was immediately charged. He was not given any other recourse.

On top of that, under the convention, Amos should have been “treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child’s sense of dignity and worth, which reinforces the child’s respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of others and which takes into account the child’s age and the desirability of promoting the child’s reintegration and the child’s assuming a constructive role in society.”

However, a blanket restriction was imposed on Amos’s freedom of speech and expression and he has been imprisoned for four days in jail now.”

When will we include our children in our calls for our rights?


Why do we not have a more creative society that is able to innovate, create, think out of the box, etc? Why are companies so reliant on or prefer to employ foreign expats?

Folks, there are many reasons, of course but one of the fundamental factors is our regimented, teacher-directed, feed the children information, mostly only one answer accepted, academic excellence rather than holistic development, punitive, corporal punishment glorified, education system.

Who do we blame?

1) Why, the government, of course, which has ruled us for 50 years and has shown no desire to change its way of governing its people. The government which believes that it should indoctrinate this society starting with our youngest through our education system.

2) And We, the people, who continue to allow our government to dictate to us about how our children should be raised, educated, and, abused.

Yes, it is indeed heartening to read, hear, and witness the voices of Singaporeans asking one another to stand up for our rights and to demand that this government accord us what should be ours as citizens of this country and the “fruits of growth” should be enjoyed by all and not just by those who govern and those whom the government considers elite enough.

It is wonderful and so refreshing to know that these enlightened Singaporeans have finally recognised that even Singaporeans have rights that are inalienable to all of us by the virtue that we are humans, and that human rights belong to every one of us and not to just those living in “the western world”. http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/

However, when will we also begin to include our children in our fight and calls for rights? We are virtually silent about our archaic education system when compared to the voices speaking out against the government about our adult rights. Our education system is stressing our children every single day and stealing their childhood and self-esteem. Of course, if children are of elite status, then that might very likely be a different matter entirely. Then, more government funds are accorded to their elite schools for these children already from rich economic background to have better and holistic education opportunities and exposure.

Why are we also not speaking out against corporal punishment when research after research evidently demonstrate that it has adverse effects on children and these effects follow these children into adulthood? http://stopspanking.org/2013/05/16/what-is-your-ace-score-lower-your-childs/

“There Are No Studies Showing Any Long-Term Positive Effects From Spanking – Not One!”

“We know that spanking is a bad idea. The research is so alarming that the Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry as well as the Academy of Pediatrics have made formal statements discouraging parents from ever spanking. “When we look at the research on the whole, we have a lot of evidence to show that spanking is not good for kids. There is not one study that shows any long-term positive effects of spanking – not one. Child pro-social behavior is never improved with spanking or linked to spanking,” says Lee.” http://stopspanking.org/2014/03/24/helping-parents-to-stop-spanking-babies-can-reduce-child-abuse/

If you study the background of criminals, most of them had abusive childhoods. Go to Changi prison and see how many of them come from abusive homes. And if you say, “I was caned and I turned out okay”, then please watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdpTJ14IFr0

“Well, I got hit when I was a kid and I turned out okay. And sometimes I wonder if those people had really examined their feelings because when there is a feeling that we have that is hurtful and we bury it because we can’t deal with it. The powers are too strong around us, we put it away somewhere. And so, when someone asks us about spanking, we are likely to have a knee-jerk response, which is, I got hurt when I was a kid, I mean, I got spanked and I turned out okay. And I sometimes want to say, We don’t know how you would have turned out. We don’t know.”
Nadine Block
National Child Protection Training Center

“When someone says, I was spanked and I’m okay, that’s true but the implication intended that spanking is okay, is false. It just they’re part of the lucky ones”
Murray Straus, Ph.D
Sociology Researcher
Family Research Laboratory
University of New Hampshire

“I think there’s a lot of blockage like, mothers might block out what they’re doing. But when they do step outside and look at how the child is wincing when they approach them, or the child looks at them or can’t look at them, when a mother makes that turn, they feel extreme sorrow. I’ve heard mothers talk about sorrow that they feel because of what they’ve done to their children. But when the mother doesn’t get to that point where she can assess her own behaviour, then it’s just a vicious cycle of what was done to me. So, I’m going to do it to you.”
Asadah Kirkland
Author, “Beating Black Kids”

“You are hitting a child. To me, that’s a violent act. The child’s bodily response to being hit is one of pain, one of fear, and the physicality or it goes into many nerve-endings from the feet, to the arm, to the bum, to the face, it has a physiological, neurological, traumatic consequence.”
John Allan, PhD
Child Psychologist
Professor Emeritus
University of British Columbia

Hitting children, no matter how you want to justify it, is against children’s rights, just as it will be against your rights when someone hits you. The only difference is that when someone hits you, you have the Right and the Voice to report to the police against the person who has hit you. Children do not have the voice to do the same thing because we as a society, together with the government have sanctioned the beating of children, even though they too have the right to not be hit .

Just as our right to not to be abused is articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
Article 5.
* No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Children’s right to not be abused is also articulated in The Convention on the Rights of the Child,(http://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx)
Article 19
1. States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.

If you notice, The Convention on the Rights of the Child is even more specific on the context of abuse than on the Declaration of Human Rights. Abuse is specified as: “all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse”.

Yet, we believe that our educators have the right to hit our children, that we have the right to hit our children, that adults have the right to hit our children.

We believe also that we have the right to mistreat, neglect, and exploit our children.

Forcing children through fear to sit down for hours, to listen to one teacher after another, talk, and talk, and then talk some more, while not making a sound and not fidgeting, with only a half hour break in-between (recess) is mistreating them.

Forcing them to come back after such daily, horrendous experiences to do tons of homework and tons more every weekend, is mistreating them.

“Play Is As Essential To The Development Of Human Beings As Sleep And Nutrition.”
Dr Stuart Brown
Founder of the National Institute for Play   http://nifplay.org/

Not allowing children to play and to go outdoors to run, to jump, to explore nature, because they are forced to do all sit and learn in the most unnatural manner, even for adults, and for doing homework daily after a day of school, which would be too much even for adults, is mistreating them, is neglecting their needs, and is negligent treatment.

Children need play and outdoors and being allowed to do so helps:
1) Facilitate optimal brain development, where infinite neural connections are built and establish. These neural connections immeasurably promote:
* children’s emotional, and psychological wellbeing,
* self-esteem,
* self-awareness,
* self-definition,
* self-recognition.
* social skills
* fine and gross motor skills
* cognitive skills like, language, creativity, problem solving, and learning abilities.

2) Children develop in a holistic manner, rather than just in academic excellence.
3) Children learn in a way that is most natural for them.
4) Children release the boundless energy that is stored in their bodies.

“People who play learn to question something, predict an outcome, and evaluate their predictions through the process of play. When we play, we persist through challenges — and we even enjoy it. Play builds excellent social and emotional skills and helps create a culture where those skills are valued at school. Probably one of the most important aspects of play is the way it treats failure and mistakes as non-punitive, ensuring that we have opportunities to learn from whatever went wrong. Yes, play makes failure fun. I love the use of the word “tinker” to describe play. It’s serious work, but it’s also fun work. Play values the process of learning as well and the product.”

“When our public education system was created in the 19th century, its goal, quite explicitly, was to produce obedient and orderly factory workers to fill the jobs being created by the Industrial Revolution. These jobs are mostly gone now, and the needs of the 21st century are not the needs of the 19th. Perhaps there’s still a role for teaching children to sit up and straignt and form lines but perhaps not. Certainly, the rapidly increasingly willingness of parents to try homeschooling, charter shcools, online schools, and other alternative approaches suggest that a lot of people are unhappy with the status quo.” Glenn Harlan Reynolds (The K – 12 Implosion)

We inherited our education system from the British and then it seems as if we have since taken it a couple of centuries back. Our education system is still preparing our children for the workforce. That is so limiting! That is exploitation of our children, just as we were exploited. Our education system is also preparing our children to be obedient and unquestioning. Obedient to the government and unquestioning of its laws and policies, just as it prepared all of us to be obedient and unquestioning. Our education system should be preparing children for life and one’s life goes so much further beyond just working.

These past couple of decades, one by one, we have slowly awakened, become aware of what has been done to us, what is being done to us, and to each other. We have begun to care. More and more of us, our eyes can see and our hearts can feel. We are enlightened. We have embarked on a journey together calling for change, demanding for what is right and just.

Please, please, do not forget that our children are part of us too. They too deserve to be part of the change and to be accorded all that is right and just. However, our children do not have the means to voice their discontent. They need you to protect them, from harm, from “physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse”.

But first, they need you to recognise what is harmful and not to buy into what the government says is good for our children. The government does not care for what is good for the children, just as it has shown time and time that it does not care for what is good for us. The government only cares for what is good, in all ways, for the government.

Then, the children need you to fight for them so that they can have a real childhood, so that they can have an education that will prepare them for a future, one where all children will have every opportunity, rich or poor, to reach their potentials, where children will be encouraged to believe that they can be the best as individuals, in whatever they choose to be.

Our children need you to fight for them to be given a conducive and safe environment to develop, grow, and learn,. Our children need you to demand that they be allowed a place where they are not fearful of physical, emotional, or psychological repercussions inflicted on them because a brain that is stress cannot learn and cannot develop optimally.

Perhaps, Alfie Kohn, one of America’s leading, most provocative author and speaker of progressive education, said it best. “If a practice can’t be justified on its own terms, then the task for children and adults alike, isn’t to get used to it, but to question, to challenge, and if necessary, to resist.” Alfie Kohn (Feel Bad Education)

Much of what is wrong for children and their development is being practiced in our education system and in the wider society of this country. Our children have no voice to question, challenge, or resist, unless they are ready to be physically, emotionally, and psychologically abused, which would very likely result in them becoming traumatised adults.

It is then up to us question, to challenge, and yes, to resist, on their behalf. Our children need us. And if we truly want a society that will not stay dumb and blind to the faults of the laws and policies of this land, we have to begin with our children. We need them.

Photo: Education is not YET the Civil Rights Movement of our time #LetsChangeThat #EDmancipation.com