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     Law against Singaporeans who sexually exploit minors overseas

Continued from FrontPage of Article

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

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(A) Penal Code And Child Sex

Sir, let me first respond to Ms Indranee Rajah and Mr Charles Chong¡¯s queries on child sex tourism and the Penal Code review.

2. Ms Indranee has expressed concerns regarding the sexual exploitation of minors. I share her concerns. We have and will continue to prosecute offenders to the full extent of the law. We are also exploring other ways to enhance the protection of minors who, because they lack maturity, are especially vulnerable to exploitation. The Inter-Agency Committee on the review of sexual offences, spearheaded by MHA and which I chair, has been studying this issue.

Protecting minors against sexual exploitation within Singapore

3. 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.

4. 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

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. 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.

(B) Youth Crime

13. Let me now move on to the youth crime situation and our recently announced initiative to keep our youths safe. In 2005, nearly 4,600 youths Youths refer to persons aged 7 ¨C 19 years were arrested, a drop of 8% from 2004. Youth crime statistics for rioting and shop and other thefts actually fell about 15%and 3% respectively in 2005 over 2004. Hence, let me assure Mr Arthur Fong that our youth gang situation is under control. I am happy to assure him that his hypothesis that there may be ¡°a staggering number¡± of youth gang members in Singapore does not accord with reality. But I have said many times before that every youth crime is one crime too many. Moreover, the drop of 8% is only for one year. For 2-3 years before 2005, the number of youths arrested was actually rising. Hence, we must press on.

14. Nevertheless, although the youth crime situation has improved from 2004 to 2005, youths continue to be involved in shop theft, other theft and rioting. Youths were also victims of offences such as snatch theft, robbery, rioting and outraging of modesty where the numbers have increased. The increase in the number of youth victims of snatch theft and robbery can be mainly attributed to more youths being targeted for their handphones.

15. Mr Arthur Fong has suggested inculcating in students an understanding of the consequences of committing crime. We have been doing this through the Inter-Ministry Committee on Youth Crime (IMYC), which I chair.

16. So for example, in 2004, IMYC launched the Prison Visit Education Programme for Schools (PVEPS), a joint project involving Police, the MOE, and Prisons Department. Under this program, ¡°at-risk¡± youths in school get a sense of the prisons¡¯ living environment, taste the food offenders eat, and are locked up in a prison cell for a while. They also witness a mock caning. All of which I am sure is a sobering experience. Mr Fong suggests that we conduct prison visits for all students. Well, this will certainly stretch prison resources. I think the current approach where we take a calibrated approach, targeting youth assessed to be a risk, is more effective. This approach will maximize limited resources and avoid diluting our message.

17. Also in 2004, the IMYC commissioned a series of Road shows in schools. A key component of this effort is that students are told specifically of the various punishment youth offenders were subject to for various crimes.

18. In March this year, Police and the National Police Cadet Corps (NPCC) will pilot the NPCC Police Youth Ambassador Programme, where NPCC cadets will be equipped with crime prevention and problem solving skills. With these skills, the cadets will help to impart crime prevention messages to their peers and assist their schools in addressing youth-related issues. 32 secondary schools will be participating in the pilot phase of this project.

19. Other community partners are also playing their part in fighting youth crime. For example, the Law Society of Singapore implemented the Law Awareness Project last year to raise awareness of the law among secondary school students, focusing on aspects relating to youth crime. IMYC helped to fund the Law Society¡¯s Newsletter on Youth Crime that was distributed to students in secondary schools and a Website that provides materials on Youth Crime. The Singapore Association of Women Lawyers also published a very useful book, ¡°Teens and the Law¡±, explaining Singapore¡¯s laws to youths on topics such as pirated videos, pornography, vandalism, and sexual relations.

20. Sir, while the Government agencies and community partners have taken many measures to deal with youth crime, parents must also play their part. In fact, their role is pivotal. That is why Police will treat parents as partners in sending them the letter which will bear the signature of the Commanding Officer of the Neighbourhood Police Centre, giving a contact number that parents can call. So, this is really the spirit behind the ¡°11pm¡± initiative by the Police, which Mr Tan Soo Khoon and Mr Chiam See Tong have mentioned.

21. Currently, Police already conducts checks on youths found congregating in public areas after 11 pm to prevent them from getting into trouble: either as victims or perpetrators of crime. Last year, during the school holidays, 15,000 checks were conducted. So, let me assure Mr Tan Soo Khoon that checking on youths is not new to Police officers who will do it professionally, not in a high-handed manner. Basically, Police takes the approach of having conversations with these young people. If necessary, advice is then given to them. Indeed, what Police has decided to so is really a logical next step, which is to notify the parents of their children¡¯s activities, in appropriate cases; for example, if youths are hanging out with individuals who might be a negative influence or are congregating at crime-prone hotspots, such as areas where cases of rioting and unlawful assembly are common. This initiative, which Police will conduct sensitively and in a measured manner, is a serious effort aimed at working with parents. It is done really for their children¡¯s good because when youths hang out late into the night in these areas, trouble can befall them even if they do not seek it!

22. Hence, let me state categorically that it is not the intention of Police to impose a curfew on these youths. This is not necessary. Nor will Police be sending letters to the parents of every single young person who is out after 11pm. Only when Police assesses that the youths they have encountered may be ¡°at-risk¡± of getting involved in crime, either as a victim or as a perpetrator, will they proceed to notify their parents.

23. Working with parents is the right approach. It is also not new. Indeed, reaching out to parents to help them play their role more effectively has been a key focus of the IMYC. Besides schools talks and parenting workshops conducted by other IMYC agencies, this new initiative by police in engaging parents will ensure that our approach towards tackling juvenile delinquency and youth crime is a well-rounded and complementary one. It is done in the interest of the youth, his parents and the public.

24. Mr Chiam See Tong has suggested reinstating the Police Boys¡¯ Club as a measure to fight youth crime. He made the call in 1997. I replied then why it was no necessary to do so. Time has borne me out. The Boys¡¯ Club has evolved and is now known as the T-Net Club, under the People¡¯s Association. It reaches out to a larger group of youths and promotes community bonding and racial harmony from a young age. Also, IMYC partners, which include neighbourhood police officers, now work with youth organizations and schools on the ground to organize many activities such as camps for our youths, including ¡°at-risk youths.¡±

(C) Reintegration Into Society

25. Mr Arthur Fong has asked about our efforts in helping ex-offenders reintegrate into society so as to prevent them from being dragged into a vicious cycle of ¡°criminalization¡±. Mr Fong also asked about the recidivism rate.

26. MHA is committed to assisting ex-offenders reintegrate back into society. Working closely with community partners, our reintegration efforts begin from the time the offenders serve their sentence in prison, and continue even after their release.

Incarceration Phase

27. During incarceration, offenders acquire useful skills through employment in workshops. Currently, 26 firms operate different industries in prisons, employing more than 2,000 offenders annually. Offenders also enhance their employability and educational qualifications through literacy and vocational courses. In 2005, more than 4,000 offenders were trained in areas such as landscaping, cleaning, IT skills and food preparation.

Aftercare Support

28. Upon release, an ex-offender who requests for aftercare support will be given counseling and assistance by the Community Action for the Rehabilitation of Ex-offenders or CARE Network. At the same time, SCORE assists in the job placement of offenders as well as ex-offenders, with offenders placed under various work release schemes. Last year, SCORE offered employment assistance to almost 3,000 offenders and ex-offenders. To further enhance the assistance provided, SCORE launched an on-line job portal in September 2005. Thus far, 443 employers have registered and 343 job vacancies have been posted on-line. In total, 1,473 employers are registered with SCORE¡¯s job bank, up from 1,381 in 2004.

Second Chance Policy

29. Let me now give an update on the amendment we made last year to the Registration of Criminals Act (RCA) in 2005, whereby now ex-offenders with spent records can now declare in their job applications forms that they do not have any criminal record. Since the scheme came into effect in October 2005, about 114,000 ex-offenders have had their criminal records rendered spent. An estimated 6,000 ex-offenders will benefit annually from this scheme. As promised when I moved the amendment Bill, MHA engaged the business community to get their support for this major initiative. We conducted a study to determine employers¡¯ attitude towards the hiring of ex-offenders and held a workshop with the employers to discuss the findings. Leading by example, as announced earlier by Minister Teo Chee Hean, the Government has decided to amend its employment application form. Instead of being asked if the applicant has been convicted by a court of law, the question will be reframed to whether he has a criminal record. I take this opportunity to urge more companies to do likewise.

30. MHA, on its part, has also been working on an e-portal to allow those who think they may benefit from the scheme to verify whether they have a criminal record that has been rendered as spent. The system will come into operation within the next one to two months.

Yellow Ribbon Project

31. We all know that Government¡¯s efforts alone are not enough. Employers, families and society at large must all play a part to change mindsets about ex-offenders. For those determined to change for the better, we must extend helping hands. Recognising this, the CARE Network launched the Yellow Ribbon Project in 2004, another ground-breaking initiative.

32. This Project has grown from strength to strength. For example, a Yellow Ribbon Job Fair was held within the Prison complex for the first time last year. 238 pre-release offenders took part in the Job Fair last year and 175 were offered jobs on the same day. I am particularly pleased that arising from the publicity generated by Yellow Ribbon Project events organised last year, many different segments of society including tertiary students and new employers are now pitching in. I have said before that placing ex-offenders in suitable jobs is a key element in our matrix of measures. Hence, I say ¡°Thank You¡± to 125 new employers who offered jobs to ex-offenders last year.

Recidivism Rate

33. Mr Fong asks about the recidivism rate. I am happy to share that all these efforts have resulted in lower recidivism rates, which have declined steadily over the last few years. In 1998, recidivism rate peaked at 44.4%: in other words, for every 100 released prisoners, about 50 returned to crime within two years of release. Today, the recidivism rate for the 2003 cohort has improved to 24.9% - the lowest rate thus far.

(D) Others

34. Let me now turn to other questions that Members have raised.

Emergency Vehicles

35. Mr Arthur Fong has raised the question of educating road users on giving way to emergency vehicles. I agree that this is important.

36. As Mr Fong rightly points out, public education is key to achieving maximum cooperation from motorists to give way to emergency vehicles. This is why the importance of doing so is covered in the Basic Theory of Driving handbook, the Advanced Theory of Driving handbook as well as the Riding Theory handbook.

37. As part of their training syllabus, the three driving schools, as well as private driving instructors, are also required to teach all learner drivers about the requirement to give way to an emergency vehicle. In addition, questions regarding this rule are included in the driving and riding theory tests which all motorists are required to pass before they are allowed to obtain their licences.

38. Apart from educating learner drivers, Traffic Police also constantly reminds motorists of their obligation to give way to emergency vehicles through road safety talks, especially those targeted at private companies and government agencies which own large fleets of vehicles, such as Chevron Texaco and SAF, so it is a targeted approach. 68 road safety talks were conducted in 2005, reaching out to a total of about 10,000 drivers and riders.

39. I thank Mr Arthur Fong for his concern. It is a concern that we should all share. I take this opportunity to remind all motorists to be mindful of their responsibilities as road users with regard to emergency vehicles. We can all do our part to save lives by giving way to emergency vehicles.

Emergency Preparedness: Fire

40. Mr Ahmad Khalis would like to know if the fire situation is improving and what more can be done through public education efforts.

41. Fire incidents have been declining over the past 10 years, from a high of over 6,700 fires in 1997 to 4,600 fires in 2003, down 30%. In 2004, the number of fire incidents increased by 8% to 4,916 fires. Last year, there was a marginal increase of 3% to 5,039 fires. The increase in fires last year was due mainly to a surge in vegetation fires which Members will recall occurred during a very dry spell early in the year. Indeed, residential and non-residential related fires actually fell by 5% and 7% respectively last year compared to 2004.

42. The improved fire situation can be attributed to the comprehensive approach of public education, community involvement and rigorous enforcement. These efforts are multi-pronged, involving the SCDF and key partners such as the National Fire Prevention Council (NFPC) and community-level Civil Defence Executive Committees (CDECs) and Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs).

43. For example, under the Home Fire Safety Visit Programme, launched in Aug 2003, CDEC members and CD Volunteers conduct house-to-house visits to provide fire safety tips and help residents identify potential fire hazards in their homes. Last December, to address rubbish chute fires which formed more than one-third (34%) of residential fires, the SCDF and NFPC rolled out a public education programme in three housing blocks which experienced repeated cases of rubbish chute fires. CDEC members and SCDF officers visited households in these ¡®hot spots¡¯ to educate residents on the prevention of such fires.

44. Mr Ahmad Khalis has asked about SCDF¡¯s target as regards making Singapore households ¡°emergency trained¡± and how it aims to achieve this target.

45. Sir, the SCDF has set a target of training at least one member per household in civil defence skills, first aid and other essential knowledge to survive an emergency. To achieve it, SCDF has mounted many public education activities. One such initiative is the Community Emergency Preparedness Programme (CEPP), which teaches members of the public critical skills such as First Aid, CPR, Fire Safety & Evacuation, Emergency Procedures & Sheltering, In-Place Protection, and Dealing with Unconventional Threats. As happened in the case of a 17 year old girl by the name of Esther Tan who helped save a life through CPR a few days ago, you never know when these skills will come in handy. She had picked up this skill at a SCDF first aid and CPR course.

46. SCDF is targeting the young as part of this effort to have more Singaporeans ¡°emergency-trained¡±. Last year, SCDF and the Ministry of Education (MOE) initiated the National Civil Defence Cadet Corps in 12 secondary schools. The aim is to impart civil defence skills among our youth, to nurture and develop them into resilient and responsible citizens. This initiative has received good response from the students and teachers. SCDF and MOE have since introduced the uniformed group to 7 more schools this year.

Drug Abuse

47. Dr Maliki has asked about the current state of Subutex abuse and the treatment for Subutex abusers. He also asked for the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB)¡¯s position on this issue and whether Subutex will be classified as a controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA).

48. Subutex is a prescription drug registered by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) for the treatment of opiate dependence.

49. Subutex is regulated by the Ministry of Health (MOH) under the Medicines Act and Poisons Act.

50. Since the abuse of Subutex first came to CNB¡¯s attention in late 2003, CNB has been working with MOH to explore possible measures to tackle the problem.

51. On 3 November last year, MOH issued a set of Clinical Practice Guidelines (CPG) on the treatment of opiate dependence to doctors. For example, doctors who wish to prescribe Subutex must undergo an 8-hour training course on opioids withdrawal and replacement therapy conducted by the Community Addictions Management Programme (CAMP) of the Institute of Mental Health.

52. At the same time, MOH has also set up a Central Addiction Registry for Drugs, Singapore (CARDS), an on-line registry which allows the central monitoring of all Subutex prescriptions to patients. Doctors who prescribe Subutex are required to register their prescriptions in CARDS. This system allows doctors to check if their patients have been doctor-hopping to get their supply of Subutex.

53. Notwithstanding these control measures implemented by MOH, CNB is keeping a close watch on the situation. The number of Subutex tablets seized monthly has decreased from a high of more than 500 tablets in July last year to 180 tablets in December last year. The number of public complaints and information received by CNB on Subutex abuse has also come down to 19 in December last year from a high of 31 in November last year.

54. Dr Maliki has asked whether Subutex will be classified as a controlled drug under the MDA. Given that MOH¡¯s control measures were implemented recently in November last year, we should allow some time for the measures to take effect. Let me assure Dr Maliki, however, that CNB remains vigilant and we will not hesitate to make Subutex a controlled drug if the need arises.

Immigration

55. Dr Maliki has also commented about the impact of our policies on immigration facilities for foreign spouses of Singaporeans and how we can better educate them on the requirements they need to fulfill for them to bring in their foreign spouses.

56. Sir, let me assure Dr Maliki that our policies on long-term immigration facilities take into account the preservation of family unity. We are mindful of the need to manage this carefully, as the proportion of marriages involving a Singaporean and a foreign spouse has increased from about 21% in 2003 to almost 30% in 2005.

57. But the Member well knows that marriage to a Singaporean does not automatically guarantee that the foreign spouse will be granted long-term immigration facilities. However, even in cases where the foreign spouse is not eligible for permanent residence (PR), we would still consider granting the foreign spouse a Long Term Social Visit Pass (LTSVP) to enable him or her to remain in Singapore.

58. Essentially, we need to ensure that foreigners given PR status do not become a burden to the State. Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents sponsoring their foreign spouses or children for PR would need to show that they are able to support them financially. Nevertheless, as I had said earlier, the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) adopts a sensitive and calibrated approach. Based on ICA¡¯s records, the approval rates for PR and LTSVP applications by foreign spouses have been relatively stable for the past three years, at 60% and 85% for PR and LTSVP respectively.

59. Where appropriate, ICA has been providing applicants with the reasons for rejection, to help them understand what they can do to improve their eligibility when they re-apply.

60. In short, Sir, ICA¡¯s guidelines governing the grant of long-term immigration facilities to foreign spouses are sufficiently compassionate to allow deserving spouses to stay in Singapore, keeping in mind the importance of sustaining the marriage and supporting family cohesion.

Foreign Workers Congregation

61. On Mr Loh Meng See¡¯s query as to whether liquor licences are being issued too liberally to provision shops and coffee shops, let me assure Mr Loh that Police does not issue liquor licenses liberally. Indeed, Police carefully assesses every application, taking into consideration factors such as the location of the store and background of the applicant. To mitigate law and order problems caused by drunkenness, no liquor licence will be issued to stores operating from within foreign workers' dormitories. Also, all licensees are prohibited from selling liquor or allowing liquor consumption within their premises beyond approved operating hours.

62. Sir, since 1999, our figures show only a very gradual increase of about 2.5% per year for all liquor licences. Therefore, there has been no liberal policy when it comes to issuing liquor licenses.

63. Moreover, the issuance of a liquor licence is subject to conditions relating to the sale of liquor. Hence, for example, in HDB estates, where neighbourhood provision shops and coffee shops are located, sale of liquor is prohibited beyond midnight, or in some cases, 1 am. Licensees are also prohibited from supplying intoxicating drinks to any drunken person or contribute to situations of drunkenness and disorderly conduct (such as brawls) on the premises. To ensure full compliance with licensing conditions, Police routinely conducts checks on licensees. Licensees who breach these conditions may have their licence suspended or revoked.

64. Mr Loh suggests that Grassroots leaders be involved in the decision process of whether or not to grant a liquor licence. In particular, he argues that their approval should be obtained. I think if we did this, very few licences will be issued because most Grassroots leaders will prefer not to have liquor outlets in their constituency if they can help it. I think the better approach is a better one where the Liquor Licensing Board and Police decides on an application based on certain criteria. But if problems arise after the licence is issued, like those mentioned by Mr Loh, Police should be fully prepared to hold discussions and consultations with the Grassroots leaders as to how these may be resolved. Indeed, this is happening as Police are working closely with the Kampong Glam Citizens¡¯ Consultative Committee as part of the Sunday Market Committee to address the problems related to the congregation of foreign workers in Mr Loh¡¯s ward, such as excessive noise, brawls or congestion to the five-foot ways. I will ask Police to continue to work closely with Mr Loh and his Grassroots leaders on addressing these problems.


Source: www.mha.gov.sg News Release 2 Mar 2006

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