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Parliament in brief: Tougher penalties for some sex offences; ban on sale of appliances causing global warming

SINGAPORE — Harsher penalties for three sexual offences, as well as disallowing refrigerators and air-conditioners that use refrigerants with a high potential to cause global warming, were among some of the laws passed in Parliament on Monday (Sept 13).

Parliament in brief: Tougher penalties for some sex offences; ban on sale of appliances causing global warming

Mr Desmond Tan (pictured), Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment, said that households having to switch to climate-friendly refrigerators and air-conditioners would not experience any cost difference.

  • Laws have been passed to increase the maximum penalties for three types of sexual offences
  • From Oct 1 next year, the authorities will no longer allow the sale of refrigerators and air-conditioners that use refrigerants likely to cause global warming
  • Construction sites that violate the no-work rule on Sundays and public holidays will be required to install an electronic video surveillance system at their own cost
     

SINGAPORE — Harsher penalties for three sexual offences, as well as disallowing refrigerators and air-conditioners that use refrigerants with a high potential to cause global warming, were among some of the laws passed in Parliament on Monday (Sept 13).

STIFFER PENALTIES 

Amendments to the Penal Code were passed on Monday to increase the maximum penalties for three types of sexual offences.

The offences that will see their maximum jail terms increased are:

  • Molestation, or outrage of modesty: From two to three years

  • Sexual activity in the presence of a minor aged between 14 and 16, or showing a sexual image to the minor: From one to two years

  • Sexual activity in the presence of a minor aged between 16 and 18, or showing a sexual image to the minor, if the offender is in an exploitative relationship with the minor: From one to two years

The changes also expand the scope of certain offences.

For example, voyeurs who capture an image of a victim’s genital region, and not just the genitals, would be considered an offence.

Material that is considered child abuse would be defined as images that show a minor’s genital region, buttocks or chest, whether it is covered or exposed.

Mr Raj Joshua Thomas, a Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP), said that replacing the term “genitals” with “genital region” is not clear enough and suggested that the laws should make clear what “genital region” is.

In response, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said that the term “gential region” is currently used in existing provisions to define child abuse material and no concerns have been raised over how to interpret it.

“We do not expect that there will be difficulty in interpreting the term in the context of the offence of voyeurism, but if such difficulties arise, we will relook this,” he said in Parliament.

Mohamed Sharael Taha, MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol Group Representation Constituency (GRC), asked whether people who send links to sexual images through online platforms would have committed the offence of sexual grooming.

Mr Shanmugam replied that sexual offences facilitated by technology were made a crime when the Penal Code was previously reviewed in 2019.

ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION 

Changes to the Environmental Protection and Management Bill were also passed on Monday.

From Oct 1 next year, the National Environment Agency (NEA) will no longer allow the sale of air-conditioners that use refrigerants with a global warming potential of more than 750. Refrigerators, as well as water-cooled chillers, that use refrigerants with a global warming potential of above 15 will also be banned.

Global warming potential is a measure of how much a gas warms relative to carbon dioxide. The higher the number, the more heat the refrigerant will trap.

Speaking in Parliament, Mr Desmond Tan, Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment, said that households having to switch to climate-friendly refrigerators and air-conditioners would not experience any cost difference.

The Ministry of Environment and Sustainability will gradually require companies carrying out activities relating to greenhouse gases, such as the installing, maintaining and decommissioning of refrigerators and air-conditioners, to establish policies and procedures to minimise emissions.

Besides keeping records of works done, they need to ensure their staff members are trained and certified.

Spent refrigerators will be classified as industrial waste, which means companies that vent these compounds while servicing or disposing refrigerators and air-conditioners need to send them for proper treatment by licensed toxic industrial waste collectors.

In response to questions from MPs who asked if there would be financial support for technicians who would have to undergo certification programmes, Mr Tan said that the Government will subsidise 90 per cent of their SkillsFuture course for Singaporeans and permanent residents.

Another change to the law deals with complaints of noise disturbance from construction sites on Sundays and public holidays.

From Oct 1 next year, the director-general of NEA can require the owner or occupier of construction sites that have violated rules on not working on Sundays and public holidays to install an electronic video surveillance system at their own cost.

As for how installing electronic surveillance systems would affect the construction industry, which has been hit badly by the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Tan said that the requirement would be imposed on only a very small number of construction sites that have breached the no-work rule.

“This (number) is around 150 out of 5,800 construction sites a year, or 3 per cent of all active sites. It will not affect the vast majority of construction sites that comply with the no-work rule,” he said.

SECONDHAND CIGARETTE SMOKE

Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Sustainability and Environment, raised an adjournment motion that called on the authorities to use deterrence to tackle secondhand cigarette smoke in homes.

The motion was a follow-up to another adjournment motion last October, which sought to increase protections against such secondhand smoke in homes and failed.

On Monday, Mr Ng argued that a law already exists that makes smoking near windows and at balconies illegal, so the Government should “make clear” that it is illegal and it could even use the new LCD screens installed at the lobbies of public housing blocks to put up notices and start an awareness campaign.

He said that the law he was referring to is Section 43 of the Environmental Public Health Act, which empowers NEA to take any step necessary to remove nuisances of a public nature.

Section 44 of that Act defined the nuisances as “any fumes, vapours, gases, heat, radiation or smells in any premises, which is a nuisance or injurious or dangerous to health”, Mr Ng added: “That sure sounds like secondhand smoke.”

In response, Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment, said that the Act cannot be used to prohibit smoking at windows and balconies.

The part of the law being referred to was enacted in the context of 1960s Singapore to provide for “quick mitigative action to arrest public nuisances from specific industrial activities” and not to deal with smoking prohibition, she explained.

She added that the Act addresses public nuisances that affect the public at large, not private ones that interfere with another person’s use or enjoyment of his property, which is the situation with smoking in homes.

“To achieve deterrence, not only do we need the appropriate law, we also need effective enforcement. Unfortunately, NEA’s assessment is that this is not achievable with current enforcement modalities and technology,” she said.

Dr Khor also said that attempts to regulate secondhand smoke in homes in other jurisdictions, such as the city of Norfolk in Virginia in the United States, had not worked because people understood that there was a low chance of being caught.

She then said that there were wide-ranging views on this issue, which touched fundamentally on an individual’s rights in his own home.

“Prohibiting smoking in homes, even if just at windows and balconies, is controversial. Homes are private spaces, and it can be viewed as intrusive for governments to regulate what people can and cannot do there.”

NEA has, in any case, stepped up its enforcement efforts in public housing estates to address the issue of secondhand smoke in homes, recognising that people had been spending more time at home during the pandemic, Dr Khor said.

Last year, 11,000 tickets were issued to those smoking in all prohibited areas under the Housing and Development Board, which includes covered walkways, common corridors, staircases, lift lobbies and void decks, compared to 7,100 in 2019, she added.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of the article stated that Mr Raj Joshua Thomas is a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament. This is incorrect. He is a Nominated MP. We are sorry for the error.

Related topics

Parliament sexual offences refrigerant NEA construction site noise Smoking Amy Khor Louis Ng

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