Woman cleared of sexual assault charges in unprecedented ruling

Zunika Ahmad pleaded guilty last December to six counts of sexual penetration and one count of child exploitation.
Zunika Ahmad pleaded guilty last December to six counts of sexual penetration and one count of child exploitation.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - In an unexpected turn of events, the High Court on Tuesday (April 12) cleared a woman of six charges of sexual penetration of a minor after ruling that only a man can be guilty of the offences.

Senior Judge Kan Ting Chiu made the unprecedented decision in the unusual case of Zunika Ahmad, a 39-year-old who is biologically female but has lived as man since she was a teen and had even "married" two women using the bogus identity of an Indonesian man.

The accused pleaded guilty last December to six counts of sexual penetration and one count of child exploitation under the Children and Young Persons Act for sexually abusing an underaged girl who lived in the neighbourhood.

Zunika had admitted penetrating the girl, who was between 13 and 14 years, with external aids.

On Tuesday, Justice Kan said that after hearing her mitigation plea and the prosecution's submission on sentence, "a doubt whether a woman could be charged with an offence under Section 376A(1)(b) arose in my mind".

He directed both sides to submit arguments on this issue. Both prosecution and defence submitted that a woman could be charged under the provision.

But Justice Kan concluded that the provision cannot cover women as offenders.

The provision states that "any person (A) who sexually penetrates, with a part of A's body (other than A's penis) or anything else", a person under the age of 16 is guilty of an offence.

Justice Kan said that A cannot be a woman.

"The reference to a person who has a penis cannot be construed to include a woman without doing violence to common sense and anatomy," he said in grounds of decision.

If a court were to interpret A to include a woman, it would be rewriting the law, he said.

Justice Kan said the "better course" was to leave it to the legislature to amend the provision to make it clear that A includes a woman, if that was indeed the intention.

He rejected the accused's plea of guilt on the six counts of sexual penetration, set aside the conviction and acquitted her of the charges. As for the remaining charge of sexual exploitation, he sentenced her to eight months' jail.

Zunika will start serving her sentence in six weeks' time to settle personal matters.

Her lawyer, Ms N. Sudha Nair, said that her client was very relieved and was very sorry for what she had done. Ms Nair said her client would go for gender reassignment surgery after she is released from prison.

A spokesman for the Attorney-General's Chambers said: "The prosecution will study the full written Grounds of Decision before deciding on the next appropriate course of action."