A Singapore court sentenced a teenage girl who worked as a runner for loan sharks to four years in jail, media reports said on Friday, sending out a warning in the crackdown on the rising problem of youth involvement in moneylender syndicates.
Nur Azilah Ithnin, 16, had been on the payroll of two loan sharks and harassed debtors by setting shoe racks and doors on fire outside several flats and splashing paint and scribbling graffiti on walls.
The girl, who previously had a clean record, committed a dozen such crimes before being caught in June.
She had been paid up to S$50 (US$36) for each debtor she harassed and S$150 for each fire she set, the Straits Times newspaper reported.
Although offenders aged 21 or below are usually given probation or reformative training, the prosecutor said that a heavy sentence was needed as a deterrent.
“There is a considerable need to impress upon the youth in Singapore who might otherwise be enticed by the lure of easy money that working for an unlicensed moneylender constitutes a very serious offense,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.
In the first half of the year, the number of loan sharking and harassment reports in Singapore surged to 9,395 compared with just 4,759 for the same period last year, while the number of related arrests more than doubled to 417, Senior Minister for Home Affairs Ho Peng Kee told parliament in August.
Among the arrested, the number of youngsters had nearly quadrupled to 81 compared with the first six months of last year, indicating that one in five people detained for loan sharking and harassment activities were youths.
“Most were impressionable youths, lured by the temptation to make a quick buck,” the minister said, adding that many of the juvenile runners were referred to work for loan sharks by friends.
Singapore’s police force has put intense pressure on unlicensed moneylenders in recent months.
The minister said nine loan-shark syndicates have been crippled so far this year, compared to the same number in the whole of last year.
To fight the rise of juvenile offenders the authorities urged parents to warn their children against falling prey to loan sharks and started an education program involving schools.
As part of the campaign, a six-minute-long video in which a young ex-runner tells his story and regrets his crimes, has been uploaded on to the internet.
“Loan sharking remains a scourge on the ground,” Ho said. “Let all of us in Singapore declare war against loan sharks.”
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