SINGAPORE: For the first time in his life, the 11-year-old boy had failed his exams. Rather than face the disappointment of his parents, he jumped 17 floors from his bedroom window.
On Friday (Oct 21), State Coroner Marvin Bay concluded that the boy’s death was not from an accidental fall but an act of suicide, adding that he seemed to have buckled under his parents’ pressure.
The court heard that on the morning of May 18 this year, the day he was to show his parents his mid-year examination results, the Primary 5 student locked himself in his bedroom. Shortly after when his parents realised the door was locked, they opened it with a spare key and found him missing.
They later found him at the foot of the block at 470A Fernvale Link. He was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics at 7am. He had suffered an open skull wound and multiple fractures due to the fall.
The boy’s mother, referred as Mrs H, admitted that she would cane her only son “lightly” on his palm whenever he scored less than 70 marks in exams. He would cry when she hit him but would not be unhappy for long, she said, calling him “a happy-go-lucky child”. Mrs H has a daughter who is a Secondary 4 student.
Out of five subjects for his mid-year exam, the boy had failed two and had just managed to scrape passes for three. His highest mark was 57.5/100, for Science, and his average score was 45.5/100.
UNCHARACTERISTIC BEHAVIOUR BEFORE HIS DEATH
The boy’s mother was aware that he had received some of his exam papers earlier. He had told her that his results were “average” and she had in fact bought a kite for him on May 14 as a reward. The boy had “woven a fictitious account of his grades” to please his parents, the State Coroner said after hearing evidence during the inquiry, adding that he faced “mounting anxiety” as the day approached to reveal his actual grades.
The inquiry heard from the boy’s principal and four teachers, all of whom said the 11-year-old was quiet with no disciplinary issues. But days before his death, that demeanour broke when he “uncharacteristically” threw his water bottle at his classmate. He later confessed to a teacher that he could not control his anger.
One teacher testified the boy had been “visibly upset” upon receiving his marks for his Chinese and Higher Chinese exams - he had barely passed the former and failed the latter miserably.
The State Coroner said the boy’s tragic death “underscores the importance for parents…to be equipped with a ready appreciation for the unique challenges (their child) will face at each step of their academic pursuits”.
Mr Bay urged parents and educators to “always remind every child that their efforts may not always yield a commensurate result, and that failures are transient events”. “Parents should also constantly reassure them that they will always be there to help the child through each stumble, winding turn and setback in their (lives),” he added.
NEW POLICE QUESTIONNAIRE “A FIRST STEP TO STUDYING, UNDERSTANDING YOUTH SUICIDE”’: STATE CORONER
Acknowledging the unique “stressors and influences that gravitate young persons in Singapore towards self-harm” today, Mr Bay revealed that a questionnaire has been developed for police officers to complete in their interviews with next-of-kin and witnesses following a youth suicide.
This is a first step to studying and understanding youth suicides, and will prompt officers to look carefully into each case for “conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, autism, ADHD, impulse control and rage issues”, the coroner said.
Officers will also ask about the presence of bullying, stalking, harassment, as well as difficulty in coping with studies, parental and peer relations, and the presence of prior suicide attempts”, Mr Bay added.
He said the questionnaire will be applied retroactively on cases of youth suicides this year that have not been closed.