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.