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
(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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
34. Let me now turn to other
questions that Members have raised.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
www.mha.gov.sg News Release 2