Police watching 'sugar babies' dating platforms

The police will closely watch dating platforms in which younger "sugar babies" are matched with older, wealthier men and women, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee told Parliament yesterday.

If money is being exchanged for sexual services among users of such sites, the police will take action under the Women's Charter, and possibly against the website and its owners as well, he said.

He was responding to questions by Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) and Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson), who asked about sites that capitalise on the emotional or financial vulnerabilities of young people, particularly dating platform TheSugarBook.

The Malaysia-based website had sparked concerns after reports said it intended to recruit more "sugar babies" in Singapore with promotions targeting undergraduates.

Warning about such sites, Mr Lee said they encourage young people to enter into transactions that are tilted in favour of older and wealthier people, and expose the young people to the risk of being exploited and abused.

"But what is of greater concern is that the site targets young people who are in their late teens and early 20s, even while they are still students at polytechnics or universities," he said of TheSugarBook.

The platform, which started operations in December 2016, markets itself as a discreet dating community. It says it caters to "well-established wealthy individuals" who wish to pamper sugar babies with financial support in return for love and companionship.

Of its 75,000 members, 28,500 are from Malaysia. Singapore users make up the second-largest group.

Mr Lee said blocking such sites would not be be adequate to protect young Singaporeans from risks. A more effective and enduring solution lies in raising awareness about the dangers, so that they can exercise discretion and good judgment when navigating the online world, he added.

He said school students are already being taught how to establish boundaries when managing both online and offline relationships.

"At the same time, parents play a critical role in guiding their children and helping them to stay away from undesirable online content."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 06, 2018, with the headline 'Police watching 'sugar babies' dating platforms'. Print Edition | Subscribe