“The youth – about 80 of them – had been arrested earlier on Thursday during a two-day anti-loan-sharking operation” (Long Night Of Questioning For 80 Youth, Mr. Danson Cheong).
Controversy has stirred following the arrest of about 80 youths for distributing loan shark flyers, as expounded in the news article “Long Night Of Questioning For 80 Youth” (July 9, 2011) by Mr. Danson Cheong. In particular, anecdotal responses from the parents of the youths arrested reflect considerable consternation in terms of how the matter was insensitively handled – especially since most of the kids had no clue about their employers – and whether they should be deemed guilty for their actions. In my opinion, the bottom-line is this: parents cannot conveniently use ignorance as a justification for the clear wrongdoing of their children; however, on the other hand, the police have the responsibility to properly clarify the involvement of the youth, intensify crackdowns on loan shark syndicates, and work with relevant agencies to prevent illegal moneylenders from perpetuating such methods of advertisement and publicity.
Carelessly distributing the flyers in neighbourhoods can have unintended ramifications; individuals and households in serious debt might be momentarily tempted by the publicity materials to approach these illegal operators for dangerous loans. The arrests and reported handcuffing of the youths are unfortunate; nevertheless, the involved stakeholders should comprehend that the investigators were merely going by the book, and that the youth distributors – and perhaps their parents – should bear the consequences for not being adequately prudent. Schools and teachers can work more closely with families to educate parents and students on how to make more judicious choices for vacation employment, and establish employer credibility from the onset.
At the same time, the increasing brazenness of the illegal moneylenders should not be overlooked by the police; already in the past week, reports on how these groups falsely tout themselves as licensed operators have surfaced. Under the common guise of financial service providers, they have not been afraid to advertise their supposed “hassle-free loans” – masking the exorbitant interest rates – and actively seeking unsuspecting borrowers. Investigations and proper arrests need to be stepped up.
Besides nipping the problem at its bud through the direct lockdown of these services, police investigators should also look into the unsanctioned use of assorted new media channels and online methodologies to indirectly publicise their illegal intentions. The kids involved this time round would be good starting points to trace the respective points of contact. Furthermore, armed with the information of how the youths gained their temporary employment, the police should also comprehensively scan local classified websites to trace irregularities in the advertisements and make checks accordingly.
It takes two hands to clap; as the parents and youth take responsibility for the lack of awareness and careful decision-making, it is imperative for the police to significantly step up its efforts in investigation to decisively halt the actions of these loan sharks.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.