New measures are now in place to deter domestic abuse, while existing avenues for legal help have been simplified so that victims can get help more easily, said Edwin Tong, Second Minister in the Ministry of Law (MinLaw).
Tong spoke on Tuesday (Mar. 2), addressing questions raised by Members of Parliament (MPs) during the Committee of Supply debate for the Ministry of Law.
Increased prevalence of domestic violence in the pandemic
Chua Chu Kang MP Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim asked how the law ministry intends to provide more support for such vulnerable groups in terms of enhancing their access to justice, and whether there are plans to enhance protection for those who find themselves being abused by their primary caregiver.
Zhulkarnain stated that the Covid-19 crisis has contributed to significant worldwide increases in domestic violence cases, and highlighted the fact that certain groups were more vulnerable to such abuse.
"Many studies have highlighted the acute vulnerabilities, particularly faced by single mothers foreign domestic workers and foreign spouses, the most vulnerable are children who do not have the knowledge and the means to escape from the clutches of their abusers," the MP said.
He pointed out that the situation becomes more complicated when the perpetrators are caregivers of the victims, causing such cases to go unreported.
Zhulkarnain highlighted that domestic violence can also be inflicted on intimate partners or other vulnerable groups such as foreign domestic workers and the elderly.
Measures to deter abuse
In response, Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong said that MinLaw has amended the Protection Against Harassment Act (POHA), the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) and the Penal Code to introduce several measures over the past few years.
These include making all offences committed against vulnerable persons arrestable, and simplifying the application process for Personal Protection Orders (PPOs) and Expedited Orders (EOs).
New offences and enhanced penalties have also been introduced to deter the abuse of vulnerable groups, such as:
- Persons with whom the offender was in an intimate or close relationship
- Children below 14 years old
- Persons with physical or mental infirmities, disabilities or incapacities who are unable to protect themselves from abuse or neglect
- Foreign domestic workers, in cases where the offender is an employer, member of the employer's household or the employment agent
Non-family members who suffer abuse are protected under the Penal Code & POHA
Zhulkarnain also asked if the ministry would consider amending the current definition of family violence in the women's charter, so that it would apply to cases of violence against intimate partners and others in the household as well.
In reply, Tong highlighted that non-family members who suffer abuse are protected under the Penal Code and POHA.
Specialised court to deal with harassment cases
Those seeking a protection order under either POHA or the Women's Charter will have similar protections, following amendments to POHA in 2019, which streamlined the process of applying for a protection order, via a new court dedicated to dealing with harassment — the Protection from Harassment Court (PHC).
The dedicated court will begin operation this year, Tong said.
Prior to the amendments, victims seeking help may end up needing to file multiple applications and re-provide evidence of their harassment. For example, those who filed a Magistrate's Complaint would need to separately apply for a protection order in Civil Court.
Victims will be able to file applications for a protection order using a simplified form, either at the Protection from Harassment Court (PHC), or online.
The PHC aims to conduct hearings for final protection orders within four weeks of application.
Top image via MCI's Youtube video