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     FrontPage Edition: Mon 20 Mar 2006

Law against Singaporeans who sexually exploit minors overseas


Response By Senior Minister Of State For Law And Home Affairs A/P Ho Peng Kee At The Committee Of Supply Debate 2006 On The Ministry Of Home Affairs, 02 March 2006

An Excerpt

Protecting minors against sexual exploitation within Singapore
First, let me address the problem of young persons engaging in prostitution.
While prostitution is not an offence in Singapore, young persons should be protected from providing sexual services. Being more easily influenced, their consent can be impaired. As such, they are more vulnerable to being trafficked, controlled and exploited by pimps and traffickers who prey on them and live off their earnings.
The existing legal age of consent for sexual activities is 16 years.
Although there is no evidence to suggest that there is a problem of significant numbers of 16 and 17 year olds engaging in prostitution in Singapore, there should be a higher age of protection for commercial sexual activities. As such, we intend to make it an offence for any person to purchase sexual services from another person who is under 18 years of age.
Other countries such as UK and New Zealand have adopted a similar approach. This move is part of the wider approach we are adopting to protect young persons against engaging in commercial sexual activities and possible exploitation, and not only specifically in response to the possible sexual victimisation of the young via the Internet which Ms Indranee has touched on.
Child Sex Tourism: Protecting minors against sexual exploitation outside Singapore
Next, I will deal with the issue of child sex tourism.
Child sex tourists take advantage of the inability or unwillingness of the host country to prosecute them. Meanwhile, very often, prosecution at home is constrained by the lack of jurisdiction, as most countries do not extend extra-territorial jurisdiction over sexual offences.
Presently, Singaporeans who have sex with minors in other countries cannot be prosecuted in Singapore, as our courts do not have jurisdiction over them.
Members had earlier urged the Government to stop our nationals from preying on minors in other countries by denying them a safe haven through enacting legislation with extra-territorial effect. We have taken note of these views, and have factored them into our review.
The Inter-Agency Committee has studied laws governing sex with minors overseas in other countries. Countries that have extended jurisdiction overseas include Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, U.K. and U.S.
While we do not condone sexual exploitation of minors in other countries by our nationals, we also recognise that, if extra-territorial jurisdiction is introduced, it would be challenging to investigate and prosecute cases involving offences committed by Singaporeans in other countries.
Ms Rajah mentioned some of these obstacles yesterday in this House such as language barriers and different local conditions making it difficult to trace and interview foreign witnesses and gather evidence.
As Singapore Police has no powers of investigation overseas, it would have to rely principally on the cooperation of its foreign counterparts. I had explained these difficulties in Parliament and and taken the opportunity to urge host countries to do their part to toughen their laws and enforce them vigorously.
At the same time, we said we would continue to study the issue and monitor developments in other countries. Our point was that efforts in this regard must be a collaborative one. Enacting extra-territorial laws by itself was no panacea. I am happy to note that what we said in Parliament galvanised action on several fronts.
But still, despite the constraints and difficulties, we recognise that having sex with minors anywhere is indeed deplorable.
Hence, Government has decided to amend our laws to extend extra-territorial jurisdiction over our nationals who sexually exploit minors overseas. I agree with Ms Rajah that by doing so, we send a strong signal that we are against this abhorrent act. Hopefully, it will also act as a deterrent.
The measures against child sex tourism will be introduced as part of the legislative changes that we will make once we have completed the review of the Penal Code, a pet topic of Mr Charles Chong who has asked for an update.
This review has taken a long time because the Penal Code, with more than 500 sections, is a very important piece of legislation and we want to be as thorough as possible in reviewing it. After all, this is the first comprehensive, holistic review of the Penal Code that we have undertaken for a long while.
Moreover, the review has stretched out because as we went along, new issues surfaced; for example, the impact of technology such as the internet and mobile phones, which have become an integral part of the lifestyle in Singapore, and which is increasingly employed by criminals to perpetrate their criminal activities.
However, let me assure Mr Chong that we will indeed be completing our review soon. Thereafter, we intend to carry out a public consultation exercise at which time, I would also welcome comments from Mr Chong, the Law Society and members of the public.

Full Text of Speech

Source: News Release 2 Mar 2006

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