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SINGAPORE — Between January 2020 and November 2022, 17 men aged 50 and above were arrested for sexual offences that carry caning as a punishment, which they committed before they turned 50.

A view of the Parliament House in Singapore.

A view of the Parliament House in Singapore.

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  • Members of Parliament filed questions on caning for sexual offenders above the age of 50
  • One MP also asked about the number of national servicemen who have died or suffered permanent disability during service
  • Replies to their questions reveal that 17 men aged 50 and above were arrested for sexual offences they committed while below the age of 50
  • This means that they cannot be punished by caning, despite having committed their offences at the age when they could have been caned

SINGAPORE — Between January 2020 and November 2022, 17 men aged 50 and above were arrested for sexual offences that carry caning as a punishment, which they committed before they turned 50.

Section 325 of the Criminal Procedure Code exempts from caning all men above 50, as well as women, and men sentenced to death whose sentences have not been changed to another that is less severe.

Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam, who is also Minister for Law, provided this figure in response to a parliamentary question from Jurong Group Representation Constituency (GRC) Member of Parliament (MP) Tan Wu Meng.

Other topics, such as the number of full-time national servicemen and reservists who have died or suffered permanent disability during service and the Government’s advertising spending, were raised by MPs during the first Parliamentary sitting for the year on Monday (Jan 9).

1. CANING FOR SEXUAL OFFENDERS ABOVE THE AGE OF 50

Questions by Dr Tan Wu Meng, MP for Jurong GRC

  • Since 2012, how many men have been arrested for serious offences punishable by caning, broken down into:
    • Those under the age of 50 at the time of the offence;
    • Those under the age of 50 at the time of the offence but were above the age of 50 at the time of arrest and at the time of sentencing;
    • And how many are related to sexual offences?

Questions by Mr Pritam Singh, MP for Aljunied GRC and Leader of the Opposition 

  • How many individuals above the age of 50 have been sentenced for serious sexual offences against young persons compared to those under the age of 50 in the last five, 10 and 15 years?
  • Is there a trend of more individuals in their late 40s and above the age of 50 committing serious sexual offences against young persons?
  • If so, have the reasons behind this been studied?

Questions by Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim, MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC

  • Will the Sentencing Advisory Panel look into recommendations for the sentencing framework of offenders who are aged 50 and above?
  • Will the Minister for Home Affairs consider an expanded age limit for judicial caning with appropriate medical requirements?

Reply by Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam

Mr Shanmugam said that the data for the time period requested by Dr Tan and Mr Singh is not available.

However, based on available data from January 2020 to November 2022, he said 2,234 men were arrested for serious sexual and serious hurt offences — such as rape, sexual assault and culpable homicide — that carry the punishment of caning.

Of this figure, 1,906 were under the age of 50 when they committed the offence. Mr Shanmugam added that 21 of these men were above 50 years old when they were arrested, of whom 17 were involved in sexual offences.

These questions come after President Halimah Yacob called for a review of Section 325 of the Criminal Procedure Code that exempts men above 50 from caning in a Facebook post last month.

From January 2020 to November 2022, 12 male offenders above 50 years old at the time of sentencing were convicted in the State Courts of serious sexual offences that come with caning, such as rape, sexual assault and sexual penetration of minors.

In comparison, there were 86 men aged 50 or younger who were convicted of such offences, said Mr Shanmugam.

In the High Court, there were 29 males above the age of 50 and 100 males aged 50 and below who were convicted of serious sexual offences that warrant caning. 

“On whether there is a trend of more individuals in their late 40s and above the age of 50 committing serious sexual offences against young persons, based on available police arrest data from January 2020 to November 2022 of the number of persons above the age of 45 at the time of offence, there appears to be no increasing trend: 18 persons in 2020, 15 persons in 2021 and 17 persons in 2022,” said Mr Shanmugam in response to Mr Singh’s query.

Mr Shanmugam also added that the Sentencing Advisory Panel, chaired by Justice of the Court of Appeal Steven Chong, makes its own decisions on the areas it studies and issue guidelines. 

The panel, which was set up last June, issues non-binding sentencing guidelines to help achieve more consistency in sentencing, Mr Shanmugam had said in Parliament last March.

On whether Singapore should change the statutory age limit for caning, Mr Shanmugam reiterated two reasons for not doing so which he gave in September 2021: That the number of men above the age 50 at the point of arrest for offences warranting caning was “significantly lower” than that of men aged 50 and younger, and that the Court has the discretion to impose an additional imprisonment term of up to 12 months when an offender is not eligible for caning.

2. NUMBER OF NATIONAL SERVICEMEN WHO HAVE DIED OR SUFFERED PERMANENT DISABILITY DURING SERVICE

Questions by Ms Hazel Poa, Non-Constituency MP from Progress Singapore Party

  • In the past 20 years, how many national servicemen in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Singapore Police Force (SPF) and Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) have died while in service or suffered permanent disability?
  • How much compensation was paid to these servicemen?

Reply by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen

On behalf of the Prime Minister, Dr Ng said that a total of 42 national servicemen have died during their service over the last 20 years, of whom 35 were in the SAF, four were in the SPF and three were in the SCDF.

During the same parliament sitting, Minister of State for Home Affairs Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim revealed that the firefighting operation in Bukit Merah last December, which ended with the death of 19-year-old full-time national serviceman Edward H Go, was delayed by 18 minutes due to funeral tentage.

Go is the first firefighter to die during an operation, the SCDF had said last month.

Dr Ng said that of the 42 deaths, six were due to traffic accidents on the way to work, from work or while on official duty. Two were from the SAF, three from the SPF and one from the SCDF.

Such deaths are covered under the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Home Affair’s compensation framework, he added.

On the number of permanent disability to the brain, spinal cord, eyes or limbs due to serious service-related injuries, there were 52 cases (43 SAF, four SPF and five SCDF) in the last 20 years, of which 11 cases (eight SAF, one SPF and two SCDF) were due to traffic accidents.

“While both the rates of death and permanent disability due to service are low with reference to international or local benchmarks of comparable activity, the SAF and Home Team constantly strive to achieve a zero fatality rate,” said Dr Ng.

“Every incident is investigated at the highest levels of command, with corrective measures taken to improve the safety under which our national servicemen train and operate.”

He reiterated a point he made in November 2018 on compensation of national servicemen for injuries or deaths, in light of the deaths of two NSFs, that the ministries compensate “several times higher” than the amount of compensation under the Work Injury Compensation Act to “reflect the mandatory nature of National Service”.

“The amounts vary considerably due to individualised circumstances and is reflected by the wide range of payouts, from several thousand dollars to more than S$1.5 million, for deaths or permanent disability due to operations or training,” he added in his reply to Ms Poa.

3. GOVERNMENT’S ADVERTISING SPEND

Questions by Mr Leong Mun Wai, Non-Constituency MP from Progress Singapore Party

  • For each year from 2011 to 2021, how much has the Government spent on advertising annually for traditional media platforms, online media platforms and sponsored posts and influencers?
  • What is the total number of impressions and clicks for each advertising medium for the same period?

Reply by Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo

The Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) only has data on advertising spend for the whole Government from October 2018 since the introduction of whole-of-Government demand aggregation for advertising procurement, said Mrs Teo.

For the financial year of 2019, the Government’s annual spending was between S$150 million and S$175 million — or about 0.2 per cent of total Government expenditure.

However, due to Covid-19, the Government spent between 30 and 50 per cent more in the financial years of 2020 and 2021, said Mrs Teo. She did not provide the exact amount spent for both years.

“The Government needed to reach wide segments of the population, get messages to them frequently to keep them up-to-date on the unfolding nature of the pandemic crisis as well as to apprise them of essential information including the benefits of vaccination and vaccination locations,” she said.

Adding that regular advertising is needed to encourage people to take up the bivalent vaccine, Mrs Teo said that for the first half of the 2022 financial year, the Government spent between S$50 million and S$75 million on advertising, of which half went to traditional media platforms such as free-to-air television and radio.

“Further breakdown of the spending cannot be released because it is market sensitive and affects MCI's bargaining position with media owners on pricing of advertisement placement rates,” she added.

Mrs Teo said that as ministries themselves are responsible for measuring the effectiveness of their advertising, MCI does not track the total number of impressions and clicks.

However, MCI’s advertising initiatives on Covid-19 vaccination and safe management measures on e-Getai shows have received over 7.5 million views in total, and music videos on vaccination have received over 9 million views online.

“Polls show that three in four members of the public think that the Government has provided sufficient information on Covid-19. Over 86 per cent agreed that vaccination messages helped in their decision to get vaccinated,” added Mrs Teo, though she did not provide any details on the poll conducted.

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