Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004

About

@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Earlier this month, the Singaporean government released two National Education Surveys that showed more than 95 percent of young people are proud to be Singaporean. The authorities should be rejoicing—they can cite the survey results as proof that government programmes are successful in tapping into the support of young Singaporeans.

But at the same time, politicians should also think about the other five percent of young people who aren’t proud. Aside from being politically apathetic, these unhappy teenagers could be seduced into joining in with anti-social activities. Indeed, there are already disturbing signs that youth ‘gangsterism’ is on the rise again in prosperous Singapore.

Last week, the Twitter hashtags ‘#slashing’ and ‘#369’ became trending topics on the internet. They refer to the slashing incidents in Singapore involving a youth gang called 3-6-9. Dozens of young Singaporeans aged 14 to 20 have already become victims of slashing attacks, which has prompted authorities to beef up security measures in the city state. The suspects are youth gangsters belonging to a secretive society; about 40 gang members have been arrested already during an island-wide operation.

Singapore’s residents are confused as to why a young gangster would attack another person for no apparent reason. Apparently, one victim was attacked after ‘staring’ at a gang member. Many Singaporeans have also been surprised to discover that some gang members are actually well-educated. The government blames broken homes, while others argue that a lack of parental attention prompts children to display anti-social behavior. Foreign workers and residents, meanwhile, are worried that they might also end up being blamed for rising gang violence.

But scholars emphasize that the new wave of gang-related violence reflects deeper social problems in Singapore and they say they want to investigate whether schools are addressing the needs of teenagers and also if the job market is providing adequate opportunities for young people. Despite being a rich nation, the income gap between the country’s richest and poorest is one of the highest in the world.

But the rise of youth gangs is not the fault of dysfunctional families alone—maybe Singapore’s ‘dysfunctional’ society more broadly is also to blame. Ignoring the roots of the problem could be counter-productive and lead the government and its citizens, many of whom are now fearful, to adopt kneejerk safety measures. Today, there are already proposals for tougher security laws, imposition of curfews on teenagers and even demands to kill the suspected gangsters. Residents want swift results, something that can be done by bringing the case to the courts.

But solving the problem of youth gangsterism should involve more than just arresting members of these secret societies. A holistic approach, which includes the elimination of social conditions that fuel youth apathy, is also needed.

…written for The Diplomat

Thailand’s Abortion Debate

Thailand is still recovering from the shock caused by the appalling recent discovery of more than 2000 illegally aborted fetuses at the Wat Phai Ngern temple in Bangkok.

The discovery of even one dead fetus usually generates strong condemnation in the country, especially from conservative circles. But what’s the reaction when thousands of dead fetuses are found in a Buddhist temple?

The first instinct of authorities was to investigate the temple’s caretakers. But this isn’t only a police matter alone—according to one analyst, the dead fetus horror is merely the ‘tip of Thailand’s illegal abortion iceberg.’ It’s estimated that around 150,000 to 200,000 women every year across the country are going to private clinics for illegal abortions.

Abortion is illegal in Thailand except under certain conditions such as if a woman is raped, if the pregnancy negatively affects her health, or if the fetus is abnormal. Abortion is seldom discussed in the media, but the sight of the bagged fetuses has activated lively public debates on whether it’s time to update the country’s abortion laws.

Asked about his stand on the issue, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said there’s no need for new legislative measures since abortion laws are already adequate. What Vejjajiva suggests instead is further re-education of the country’s youth so that proper social values will be instilled in Thais from a young age. But this position is contrary to current public opinion as reflected in the polls, which favours the legalization of abortion now that more people are linking abortion with individual rights.

If the prime minister is unwilling to rethink his stand on abortion, one of his fellow party members in parliament has already proposed the legalization of abortion. But MP Rayong Sathit Pitutecha ‘s objective isn’t merely to give women access to proper health services, but also to reduce the country’s ‘low quality’ population. This point—a public official favouring abortion to get rid of ‘disagreeable’ members of society—has created doubt amongst human rights advocates about the motivation behind this push.

Thailand has taken some bold and effective measures in the past to reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases in the country. Maybe the dead fetus scandal will also embolden authorities to review the country’s abortion policy. Or if they are hesitant to change abortion laws, at least they can do something to substantially improve the delivery of reproductive health services to prevent future such incidents.

…written for The Diplomat

One Response to “Slashing Scare in Singapore”

  1. […] Slashing Scare in Singapore Earlier this month, the Singaporean government released two National Education Surveys that showed more than 95 percent of young people are proud to be Singaporean. The authorities should be rejoicing—they can cite the survey results as proof that government programmes are successful in tapping into the support of young Singaporeans. But at the same time, […] Read more on Mong Palatino […]

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