A 10-year jail sentence meted out to a pre-surgery transgender man yesterday made clear that women can be charged and punished for sexual penetration of minors.
Lawyers whom The Straits Times spoke to said the Court of Appeal ruling was an important clarification.
Over 22 months, Zunika Ahmad, 40, had regular sex with a minor using a dildo. Yesterday, Zunika was sentenced to 10 years in jail for six counts of sexually penetrating a minor.
This overturned a previous ruling when Zunika was acquitted because the High Court ruled that the law did not apply to women.
Criminal lawyer Adrian Wee said: "The court has held that that is an offence and I think it is rightly so. I think it is very good to clarify this point. The aim is to protect the minor. Does it matter to the minor whether he or she is penetrated by a male or female?"
Some lawyers were surprised by the previous acquittal.
Zunika had pleaded guilty to the six counts of sexual penetration of a minor but was acquitted by Senior Judge Kan Ting Chiu in April.
Section 376A(1)(b) 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 reasoned that only a man can be charged with such a crime, given the way the provision was written. He said it was up to the legislature to amend it to make it clear that it includes women.
In the Court of Appeal's decision last month, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said: "Section 376A(1)(b) is gender neutral and is capable of applying to a female offender."
Criminal lawyer Amolat Singh said: "We already know that in other countries, women do exploit other women. It cannot be that Parliament would punish one gender and not the other."
Mr Singh said it was good for Singaporeans to know where the law stands on these matters, and that the previous situation had "created some bewilderment".
Adopting a literal reading "may not serve what Parliament had intended", said criminal lawyer Daniel Chia. "I think, fundamentally, the Court of Appeal recognises that the permutations of sexual misconduct are very wide."
However, criminal lawyer Peter Ong Lip Cheng felt that if the law was ambiguous, benefit of the doubt should be given to the accused and the law ought to be amended by Parliament.
Mr Ong said: "I know minors must be protected, but what I'm saying is, it must be very clear that this is a criminal offence. When you say 'other than A's penis', you're talking about a man."