A 14-year-old student in Singapore took his own life a few hours after he was questioned by the police for being a suspect in a molestation case, prompting a review of official procedure which allows the police to interrogate minors even without the presence of a parent, guardian, or adult counselor.
On January 26, 2016, Benjamin Lim was picked up from school by five police officers dressed in plainclothes for an “interview” at a police station. The teenager was accused of molesting an 11-year-old in a nearby residential building. During the interrogation, which lasted three hours, Lim was not accompanied by his parents. The police said he confessed to the crime, although he later told his mother that he is innocent. After arriving home, Lim took his life.
Lim’s family questioned the need to dispatch five officers to handle a case involving a minor. They also believe that the teenager was traumatized during the interview inside the police station.
His death led many people to demand a review of police procedure concerning the proper way of handling children and other vulnerable sectors of the population. The police acknowledged this and released a statement saying they would do just that:
The Police have been asked whether it should review the procedure to allow an appropriate adult to be present when a young person is interviewed. The Police will review and address this issue.
Lim’s father felt the review came too late:
As Benjamin’s father, I felt this is necessary, but it came too late. It is necessary because we pray that the same treatment my son received from the police, will never ever happen again to another child.
After Lim’s death was reported, some shared how they were treated the same way by the police during their younger years. There was even a case when an elderly person with dementia was apprehended and interrogated without being accompanied by a relative.
Human rights group Community Action Network believed that Lim’s death “could have been prevented had everyone involved in the investigation of this case showed sensitivity towards the fact that they were investigating a minor.” It also urged the placing of cameras inside interrogation rooms to make the investigation process more transparent:
We find it absurd that while public spaces are heavily surveilled with security cameras, interrogation rooms are not fitted with any cameras to allow for transparency of the interrogation process, which may be useful in an incident like this.
This particular demand is also being advocated in an online petition:
We believe that transparency is important when it comes to police investigations, especially when minors are involved. To that end, we support the police’s piloting of video recordings during questioning, and urge Parliament to pass legislation that would require mandatory video recordings of all police interrogations.
The Association of Women for Action and Research, which focuses on sexual assault cases, urged the police to respect the rights of suspects, especially minors:
If there is a general perception that criminal investigations may be unduly harsh or traumatic, especially for minors, this may deter victims from reporting. It is in everyone’s interest that criminal investigations respect the rights of suspects.
Meanwhile, the opposition Singapore Democratic Party questioned the silence of concerned government ministries about the issue:
The Ministers for Law, Education, and Home Affairs have kept silent on the matter. Given that a teenager has committed suicide resulting from a series of actions involving the police and the school, it behooves the Ministers to, at the minimum, address the situation and see how the matter is resolved and future incidents prevented.