SINGAPORE — President Halimah Yacob’s suggestion for rapists who are over the age of 50 years old to be caned so to protect the young, has drawn mixed responses from the public and civil society.
On 19 December, Mdm Halimah expressed her dismay in her Facebook past regarding the recent spate of cases involving rapes of children in their own homes by their male relatives, as it is “highly disturbing and sickening.”
The Singapore President expressed her worry that there could be many more unreported cases and there is a need to look at other ways to help the children and stop them from falling prey to such rapists.
“I can’t even begin to imagine how much pain and damage these young victims had to suffer. ”
Halimah stressed that rapists should not be spared the cane just because they are fifty years old.
“It’s ironic that they could escape from the pain caused by caning despite the lifetime of severe trauma and irreparable damage that they cruelly inflicted on their victims which will last a lifetime.”
She added in some cases that the rapes were committed earlier but reported only after the perpetrator reached fifty years old.
“It’s timely that we review this law. ”
MP proposed to raise age limit for caning in Parliament
During a Parliament debate last year, Mr Murali Pillai, Member of Parliament for Bukit Batok SMC had suggested to raise the age limit for caning.
“I don’t see why Parliament should presume in favour of a repeat sex offender that he is not fit to be caned when he is clearly fit enough to commit such heinous acts, ” Mr Murali said.
In response to Mr Murali’s suggestion, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said that “there was no reason to raise the age limit”, stated that it may not stop the problem because “when you shift the line, the problem may also shift.”
Mr K Shanmugam added that the proportion or number of men over the age of 50 arrested for serious offences that attract caning are “significantly lower” compared to men under the age of 50.
AWARE disagrees with Halimah’s suggestion, fears corporal punishment normalises violence instead
Singapore’s leading gender rights advocacy group, Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) expressed their disagreement with the president, calling for a “survivor-centric and trauma-informed” justice system aside of harsher penalties.
It agreed with Mdm Halimah is right to worry about “many more unreported cases” in Singapore, however, it stressed that they do not agree that the government should consider caning rapists who are above 50 years old.
In its statement on its Facebook page, AWARE said corporal punishment enforces the inherently violent idea that authority and norms should be established through physical domination.
“Instead of reducing the culture of violence, corporal punishment normalises violence, furthers its cycle and plays into sexist ideas that correlate masculinity with physical strength.”
AWARE said people should beware of how the state’s judicial practices may be influencing domestic life.
AWARE cited a survey by Singapore Children’s Society and Yale-NUS in October, which found that corporal punishment of children at home was largely seen as not just ineffective but detrimental.
“Yet some of the parents interviewed justified caning their children by citing Singapore’s judicial caning—what the study called “an external, macrosystem influence that backed their use of physical discipline”. ”
In terms of deterring potential abuse and recidivism, AWARE said there are still no clear evidence that caning is in fact a deterrent of sexual abuse, or is superior to other method such as prison terms, rehabilitation programmes or other non-violent penalties.
The right group warned that harsh penalties being inflicted upon a perpetrator may in fact make survivors reluctant to come forward to report their abuse.
“Especially if that survivor is dependent on, or bears any emotional attachment to, their perpetrator. ”
Ms Clarissa Choo, a research officer at the Singapore Children’s Society and one of the researchers involved in the study, said: “Parents) point to it as being a ‘generational passing down’, because their grandfather hit their father, and their father hit them, now it’s their turn to pass it down to their children.”
Ms Choo added that parents also took cues from the Singapore judicial system, which metes out caning as one of its punishments, as an influence to using physical discipline.
She noted that when young adults who had been physically disciplined as children were asked if they would physically punish their future children, “a number” of them said that they would, which is an indication of “potential intergenerational transmission”.
“The narratives that they gave us very much mirrored what the parents said,” Ms Choo said.
For instance, the young adults said that they may give their future child several chances when they commit wrongdoings, and may eventually physically discipline them when they continually repeat their misdemeanours, or they might hit their child if they feel “very angry”.
Ensure the justice system are “survivor-centric and trauma-informed”
Harsher penalties aside, AWARE stressed that what matters is ensuring that all parts of the criminal justice system are “survivor-centric and trauma-informed” so that survivors can more easily obtain the justice that they seek for themselves.
“We hope that the rash of recent cases signals that there is more awareness of sexual violence in society, and more avenues for help-seeking, ” AWARE said.
Law Society President: those who are over 50 years of age can be caned
Adrian Tan, president of Law Society of Singapore wrote in a LinkedIn post, commented that rapists who are over 50 years of age can be caned and highlighted that a convict can only be caned if the doctor certifies the person to be of good health.
Mr Tan supports caning as an appropriate punishment for two reasons. One being retribution: those who commit serious crimes deserve to suffer a proportionate punishment and second, deterrence.
Late Lee Kuan Yew was quoted by Mr Tan, who said : “You put a person in a prison, it makes no difference. He will not change. Because you observe certain rules, there’s enough food, enough exercise, fresh air, sunshine… But if you cane him, and he knows he will be given six of the best on his buttocks, and it will hurt for one week that he can’t sit down comfortably, he will think again.”
Kenneth Jeyaretnam calls for abolishing caning which inherited since colonial era
Meanwhile Reform Party (RP) Secretary-General Kenneth Jeyaretnam, urged that canning should be abolished, as it was inherited from the British and violates the universal prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
Criticising President Halimah’s recent remark, Mr Jeyaretnam wrote “Halimah reveals herself as the truly despicable individual she is.”
“Also if men above 50 can be caned why not women? She seems not to possess a sense of irony. Since she’s a puppet presumably her views reflect those of her master, ” he wrote in an Facebook post.
Constitutional challenge against judicial caning in 2014
A constitutional challenge against judicial caning was filed by human rights lawyer M. Ravi on behalf of his client, Yong Vui Kong in 2014 and heard in Singapore’s highest court, the Court of Appeal on 22 August that year.
Mr Ravi argued that judicial caning was unconstitutional for three main reasons.
Namely, that one, it is a form of torture or inhuman punishment that contravenes Article 9(1) of the Constitution, which says no one should be deprived of life or liberty except in accordance with the law.
He also argued that the practice of caning contravenes Article 9 of the Constitution for its arbitrariness, as its stated legislative objective of criminal deterrence has not only never been proved or substantiated by the Government, but has, in fact, been conclusively disproved.
Thirdly, Mr Ravi argues that the scheme contravenes Article 12 of the Constitution because it represents a form of discrimination against men between ages 16-50. Caning is disallowed to be carried out on anyone outside of this age range. Women are not allowed to be caned.
Mr Ravi said that besides the prohibitions in Singapore’s Constitution, Singapore also had to adhere to international obligations it has committed itself to.
He also asked the court to consider the original objective of the law , which he said was based on British racism towards the Chinese at the time.
In the Legislative debates on the introduction of caning in 1872, the British government had referred to Chinese rioters as the “riff-raff and scum of China.”
Today, almost 150 years later, should the original attitudes which informed decisions on the basis of whipping men should still hold sway? Ravi submitted that the answer is a resounding “no”.
the appeal court, after examining cases from Europe, Africa and elsewhere, held that caning as administered in Singapore does not amount to torture.
In March 2015, the Court of Appeal ruled that the caning of convicted prisoners is constitutional.
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, in his delivery of the court’s decision, said that even though international law prohibits torture, international law and domestic law are two separate legal systems.
A domestic court cannot strike down a piece of domestic legislation by reason alone of its incompatibility with international law, he said. In the same way, a state cannot rely on domestic legislation to justify a breach of its international obligations.
The court also disagreed with the argument that torture is unconstitutional because there is a common law prohibition on torture.
The prohibition applies only to the torture of suspects or witnesses for the purpose of extracting evidence and confessions and does not cover the treatment of criminals after they are found guilty of their crimes, said CJ Menon.