Singapore to raise penalties for sex crimes

Singapore will raise penalties for some sex offences following an outcry over the sentencing of elite students

Singapore will increase penalties for some sex crimes, officials said Friday, after an outcry over students at elite universities being given punishments criticised as too lenient for attacks on women.

Last year, a dentistry student at the National University of Singapore spent just 12 days behind bars for trying to strangle his ex-girlfriend. Another student from the same university was initially sentenced to probation for molesting a woman on a train.

Many were outraged at what they saw as light sentences and expressed concern the offenders were given lenient punishments because of their academic potential.

On Friday, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam told parliament that "you shouldn't be able to come to court to say you have a bright future, you will go far and so on."

"An offender will not receive a lighter sentence simply because he has higher educational qualifications, or has better prospects in life," he added, announcing tougher penalties for some sex offences.

The maximum prison term for molestation will be raised from two to three years.

Such cases rose about 24 percent in the past five years compared with the previous five-year period, Shanmugam said.

For sexual activities in the presence of a minor between 14 and 16, including showing them a sexual image, or similar acts done in front of a minor between 16 and 18, the maximum sentence will be raised from one year to two years' imprisonment.

The government will also set up a panel to issue sentencing guidelines, and prosecutors will generally object to rehabilitative sentences such as probation for adults committing certain kinds of sex crimes and assaults, Shanmugam said.

But Singapore women's rights charity AWARE cautioned against focusing too much on harsher penalities, saying research showed there was no link between tougher punishments and reduced rates of sex crime.

"Instead, we continue to urge increased survivor support and measures to make the reporting and prosecution process more accessible and less arduous to complainants," it said in a statement.