Safeguard our future. Empower our children.

Posted: April 2, 2009 in Uncategorized

Written by Singa Crew
02 July 2008

Many of us are blessed with responsible parents who provided for us (both materially and spiritually), and taught us to tell right from wrong. Children from such a nurturing environment usually grow up to be well-adjusted and productive members of society.

Not too long ago, children were spotted at a protest march and that was brought up for discussion on internet forums. This revelation that forward thinking parents were taking responsibility to educate and empower their children may have dredged up bitter childhood memories for some.

Mahjongking, erratic poster on http://www.yoursdp.org, apparently broke into hysterics and demanded to know why the other kids are allowed to attend protests with their mommies and daddies.

“… I don’t know… come on! Speak to me! Answer my question!” – Mahjongking

While I strongly discourage petulant behaviour, I will make an exception just this once (in the spirit of education) and answer Mahjongking’s question.

Education

The family unit is the place where primary socialization takes place. Parents are responsible for teaching their children the correct moral values. Getting children involved in civil activism, whether it is lighting candles at a vigil or marching with responsible adults at a protest, is an excellent way to educate the little ones about relevant issues that affect their lives and future.

In Singapore, where the all-powerful PAP (People’s Action Party) exercises near absolute control over all aspects of our lives (including education), it is inconceivable that social issues critical of their policies will be brought up for discussion in the classrooms. So what better way to educate the children than to involve them in extra-curricular activities? Take the first Tak Boleh Tahan event for example. The Singapore Democrats and their supporters (with children in tow) raised awareness about social ills such as the rising costs of living (without a corresponding increase in workers’ wages), how the government uses cheap foreign labour to suppress the wages of local workers and the obscene salaries of our political leaders. These issues have a direct impact on the quality of life, and affect all citizens, not just the working adults. Children should not be left helplessly ignorant and burdened with unanswered questions simply because the PAP decided that bringing up such issues will smear their “perfect” record of governance.

There are also critics and over-protective parents who will argue that children are too young to be exposed to “adult problems”. Such a flimsy excuse to keep children from learning simply cannot stand up in the real world. Especially since (many) young children are also encouraged to attend Sunday school where moral values and spiritual doctrines are imparted to them. If finding out about rising costs of living and social injustice is considered to be too “heavy” for children, perhaps we should also stop all children from learning about life and death (in the story of Christ) at Sunday school.

The lies and hypocrisy

After the first Tak Boleh Tahan event, PAP propagandists tried to undermine the positive benefits of the exercise by voicing concerns over “safety issues”. If they had said the sky was bright orange, it couldn’t have been a more blatant attempt at disinformation.

Let us examine the recent history of activism in Singapore. We can talk about the 4 person silent protest outside the CPF building on 11 August 2005, the Freedom Walk on 10 December 2006, the vigil outside the Burmese embassy on 30 September 2007 and the SDP 4 person protest outside the Istana on 8 October 2007. The events I listed are merely a few of the series of protests that have slowly gained momentum on our small island. I couldn’t help but notice that these events are marked by an absence of violence. And let us not forget that large scale election rallies over the past few decades have not been marred by riotous behaviour.

In the face of such overwhelming evidence, PAP propagandists continue to shamelessly invoke the spectre of ancient history, namely the Hock Lee bus riots of 1955 and the race riots during the 1960s, to undermine any progress made by the Singapore Democrats. What makes the “Protests Are Dangerous” propaganda even more galling is that the PAP themselves practise blatant double standards. While the PAP propagandists attack the Singapore Democrats for allowing children to participate in peaceful protests, these propagandists shamelessly neglected to mention that the PAP themselves allow children to participate in THEIR protests which are held on a much larger scale!

Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, kindly examine exhibit A:

Walk with CASE public march led by PAP MP Dr Teo Ho Pin (2007)
Source of photo: http://www.yoursdp.org
Author’s note: Children are clearly visible in the foreground.

On 16 March 2008, the day after the Singapore Democrats and their supporters were arrested for their “illegal” gathering of 20 or so, CASE went ahead with their massive campaign against the marketing of junk food to children. In their words, that event was one that “will bring together over 5,000 consumers”. Apparently, the government saw no potential for rowdy behaviour in that gathering because the Minister for Health himself, Mr Khaw Boon Wan, was guest-of-honour.

Now let us examine the facts. On the one hand, a small gathering of activists campaigning against the rising costs of living and various forms of social injustice was cause for concern. They were arrested because supposedly any gathering of more than 5 in Singapore could lead to public disorder. And the activists’ actions came under fire by PAP propagandists for putting children in potentially dangerous situations.

On the other hand, a much larger gathering of consumers (supposedly numbering 5,000) could campaign freely against “marketing of junk food to children”. Suddenly the numbers don’t matter anymore. And of course, the parents at that event did not come under fire for endangering their children. Maybe 5,000 was a safer number than 20? Never mind the frivolous reasons for having children in a crowd of thousands. Frivolous because, as the Minister for Health of a ruling party that exercises absolute control over all policies, why couldn’t Mr Khaw simply implement health guidelines to limit the irresponsible marketing of junk food to children? The PAP have never shied away from implementing draconic measures for “the good of society”. Why pretend otherwise for World Consumer Rights day?

Don’t blame the victim

The date was 15 March 2008 and the place was Singapore’s shopping district by the Singapore River (a tourist attraction). The atmosphere was one of amenity as children carrying balloons strolled leisurely alongside their parents. It wasn’t just all fun and laughter though. This family day out was also a chance for children to learn about the various forms of social injustice inflicted upon them and their parents; something they will never learn at any school in Singapore. As I gazed upon this heartwarming scene, the last thing that crossed my mind (and that of any rational observer) was potential for riotous behaviour.

However, just mere minutes into the event, the merry little band were waylaid in the middle of a street filled with weekend shoppers, and the adults were snatched away from the children in a clinical manner. The crowd (including the children) could only look on helplessly as the waylayers efficiently bundled the activists one by one into waiting vans. In case any readers were wondering how a mass kidnapping could occur in broad daylight in the middle of a shopping district in Singapore without hindrance, let me answer your question. The waylayers were the police.

If a man gets robbed and he seeks recourse through the justice system, does the judge pass sentence on him for causing criminal behaviour? No. In all civilized countries, the perpetrators of criminal behaviour are punished, not the victims of crime. Thus, it came as a shock to me when activists involved in the Tak Boleh Tahan event came under fire for “endangering” children.

Weeks before the event, details of the event were already sent to the police and published on the SDP website. Their intentions were clear as day for all to see. And the presence of children was akin to bearing olive branches; a show of good faith and assurance to the authorities that they come in peace. It is clear to any rational person that the Singapore Democrats and their supporters have gone out of their way to assure the authorities of their peaceful intentions. Only to have that thrown right back at them. If those PAP propagandists were truly concerned that children were traumatized during the Tak Boleh Tahan event, they should blame the perpetrators of rowdy behaviour. They should blame the police, and not the victims of PAP high-handedness.

Safeguard our future

Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development proposes that 5-9 year olds exhibit what is known as heteronomous morality. Children at that age regard morality as obeying other people’s rules and laws. And acts are judged by their observable consequences rather than intentions. In other words, children exhibiting heteronomous morality are concerned with superficiality, unable to think independently and consider a situation from different perspectives (taking into account intentional and environmental factors).

Now, please indulge me for a moment and take a wild leap of imagination. Let us imagine 5 year olds filling the roles of judges, law enforcement officers and lawmakers. If you think that’s scary, then let me tell you this: it is already happening in Singapore! Currently, we have law enforcement officers who think “PAP = Government” and whatever the PAP decree is right, never mind if the Constitution says otherwise. We have journalists who will tell you the Constitution doesn’t grant you “freedom of speech and assembly”, in the face of hard evidence (clearly they took their cue from some fatherly authority figure rather than the Constitution itself). We have a minister who said that liberalizing bar-top dancing will lead to “blood shed”. In conclusion, the ranks of professionals are staffed by individuals of child-like moral intelligence.

The future of Singapore looks grim, but for the few shining examples of responsible parenthood. Names like Chee Soon Juan, Jaslyn Go and Muhammad Jufri comes to mind. These parents are taking on the responsibility to educate the next generation; imparting to them the correct moral values and critical thinking skills. With parents like these around, one can still hope that a new generation of citizens in possession of mature cognitive faculties; who can debate ideas based on the basis of rights and wrongs, will rise up to helm the country in the right direction.

Singa Crew

Below is a selection of quotes from activists and parents:

“I came along with my kids to participate in a peaceful protest against the rising cost of living in Singapore which affect my kids directly. Childcare, transportation and health care cost are on the rise. As a mother, I am proud to be teaching them to stand up against an unfair system.” – Jaslyn Go Hui Leng

“Our children are involved in some of their father’s activities and they are familiar and comfortable with the people who participate in these activities, too. Apparently, they come to know that these are decent and interesting people to be around and there’s nothing sinister or needed to be fearful about. Our youngest boy always enjoys “going to the democracy place to light candles”. In Singapore, these are certainly rare occasions that not every child gets to experience.” – Dr Huang Chih Mei (wife of Dr Chee Soon Juan), posted on http://www.yoursdp.org

“Protests and other forms of activism can be immensely rewarding, and it is wonderful for children to know they can make a difference in the world.” – Kelly Palmatier, CompassionateKids.com

“And children are supposedly our hope for the future. Thus it seems essential to include them in our political struggles, if we want the issues to live longer than us.” – Kirsten Anderberg, http://www.kirstenanderberg.com

“Kids are not encouraged to question wrongs. That is why bringing children to protests shows them that they can express themselves and question anything they believe wrong. It develops their analytical and critical thinking.” – Alfred Kuba, Coordinator of Silicon Valley In Defense of Animals (cited by Caity McCardell on http://www.vegfamily.com)

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