Singapore’s sexual offences laws are in the Penal Code 2008 (PC) as amended by the Criminal Law Reform Bill 2019 (CLRB). The Evidence Act 1997 (EA) contains the evidentiary rules for all criminal offences.
In February 2019, Singapore introduced the Criminal Law Reform Bill, which included amendments to some sexual offences in the Penal Code. At the time of writing, the Bill had not been Gazetted and was therefore not in force. However, the authors were advised by local legal experts that the Bill would be Gazetted early in 2020. For this reason, the report assesses the Penal Code as amended by the Bill.
Important amendments made by the Bill include removing marriage as a defence or exception to a charge of rape and adding specific child sexual offences covering sexual touching and sexual communication with a child. Sexual grooming of a minor under 16 was already an offence under the PC.
While the reforms are positive, there is still a significant gap between many of Singapore’s sexual assault provisions covered in this report and good practice standards. For example, the requirement for corroboration and evidence of a complainant’s prior sexual conduct are not expressly excluded by legislation, ‘consent’ is not expressly defined as free and voluntary agreement to sexual activity, and the legislation does not make clear that evidence of resistance to the assault, such as physical injuries to the body, is not necessary to prove that sexual activity took place without consent. The defence of consent is available to child sexual assault offences if the offender was married to the complainant at the time of the offence and there was consent. Singapore’s legislation does not have a close-in-age exemption to avoid criminalising young people and children who engage in consensual sexual activity with their peers (e.g. a 16-year-old with a 15-year-old without any coercion or exploitation). The age of consent in Singapore for opposite-sex sexual activity is 16 years outside of marriage.
Same-sex sexual activity for women was decriminalised in 2007, but consensual same-sex sexual activity for men remains criminalised as ‘outrages on decency’ under Article 377A of the Penal Code. The maximum penalty is two years’ imprisonment. Laws that criminalise consensual same-sex sexual activity, such as ‘buggery’ and ‘sodomy’, should be repealed, even if they are not enforced. All non-consensual sexual acts, including anal ‘rape’, should be included in the standard sexual assault provisions, such as ‘rape’ and ‘sexual assault’, as well as in child sexual offences. All of these crimes should be gender-neutral.
Singapore provides for corporal punishment for some sexual offences (e.g. rape), which is inconsistent with good practice. Singapore is a state party to relevant international human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Convention on the Rights of the Child, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Singapore has not joined the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment or International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Read more about the criminalisation of LGBT people in Singapore.
The full assessment of Singapore is available here.