Bukit Batok Member of Parliament (MP) Murali Pillai said in Parliament today (Sep. 13) that serious sex offenders should be caned regardless of their age, as this would serve as a stronger deterrent against sexual offences.
He also proposed that the current cut-off age of 50 years for caning is "not fit for purpose", as he made an observation that middle-aged offenders tend to target younger victims, and they should therefore be strongly deterred from doing so.
Murali was speaking in the debate over the Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) bill, read for the second time in Parliament, that would raise the maximum penalties for certain sexual offences.
Should instead assess whether a person is medically fit to be caned
Murali said he was in favour of the bill, which increases penalties for offences such as outrage of modesty, engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a minor, and causing a minor to view a sexual image.
However, Murali pointed out that in keeping with the aims of the bill to protect women, children, and vulnerable persons from sexual predators, that "there should not be an age limit to caning as punishment".
He added, "Instead, we should look to whether the person is medically fit to be caned. If it is found to be so, it should be no impediment."
Cut-off age of 50 no longer appropriate
Murali referred to a court's interpretation that the age of 50 was intended as a "convenient proxy to screen out those who are likely to be unfit for caning".
Murali mentioned his earlier statements in parliament in March 2020, saying that the cut-off age of 50 years old was first introduced in 1900 by the British, which was in line with the life expectancy then.
Murali then pointed out that life expectancy in Singapore is now "slightly more than eighty years", suggesting that the cut-off age for caning should move in tandem with life expectancy.
He also noted that while Malaysia has retained the cut-off age of 50 for caning, it does not apply to serious sexual offences, provided that the offender is assessed to be medically fit for caning.
Unintended consequences of the cut-off age
Murali made a further argument that offenders who are fit enough to commit sexual offences, should be fit for caning as well:
"I don't see why Parliament should presume in favour of a repeat sex offender that is not fit to be caned when he is clearly fit to commit those heinous offences."
He also made an observation that middle-aged offenders are supposedly prone to targeting younger victims, possibly due to the fact that they will no longer be subject to caning:
"I also think it's not a coincidence that such middle-aged offenders tend to target younger victims, we need to ensure that such like minded offenders will be strongly deterred from harming them."
He said that Parliament should guard against this unintended consequence of having a cut-off age of 50.
Shanmugam: Govt cautious about extending categories of people who are caned
Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam responded to Murali's concerns, and reiterated that "there is no reason to raise the age limit".
Shanmugam responded to Murali's claim about sexual offenders aged 50 and above:
"The 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."
Shanmugam also highlighted that in lieu of caning, if an offender is not eligible, the court can impose an additional prison term of up to 12 months, if it assesses that there is a need.
Nonetheless, Shanmugam said that Murali's argument, that the cut-off age should be in line with the current life expectancy, is a "cogent one", but the government has "been quite cautious about extending the categories of people who are caned".
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