SINGAPORE- The minimum age at which a person is criminally responsible for his or her actions will be raised from seven to 10, under the Criminal Law Reform Bill that came up for debate in Parliament on Monday (May 6).
The current age is a colonial inheritance and needs to be updated, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin.
Children under the minimum age of seven as well as those above seven but below 12 who are unable to understand the nature and consequences of their conduct "cannot be held criminally responsible for any act or omission which would otherwise be an offence", said Mr Amrin.
A balance needs to be struck between protecting the public and being fair to young children who may not understand the consequences of their actions, he added.
He told the House criminal activity among children below age 10 is very low in Singapore.
But criminal activity increases in those aged 10 and older, said Mr Amrin, adding that most juveniles commit property offences like theft.
"On balance, we think MACR (minimum age of criminal responsibility) of 10 years old would be more appropriate in our context," he added.
Children below age 10 and those between ages 10 and 12 who are not mature enough to understand the nature and consequences of their conduct will not be convicted, but this does not mean that nothing will be done, said Mr Amrin.
The Home Affairs Ministry is looking to develop a framework that will allow the authorities to intervene in cases of such young children, he added. The raising of the MACR will only come into effect when the framework for rehabilitation has been finalised.
Other proposed changes in the Bill include decriminalising attempted suicide, repealing marital immunity for rape, and expanding the scope of rape to include all forms of penile penetration.
Mr Amrin also highlighted the proposed new offence of fraud, which focuses on the deceitful intent of the offender and not the effect on the alleged victim.
"The new offence of fraud is intended to deal with novel and complex schemes which the current offence of cheating may not cover," he said.