'My stomach churns every time': President Halimah calls for more protection against paedophiles

Condemning rape as "the most heinous" crime, President Halimah Yacob noted how the damage inflicted could last a lifetime for a victim. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

SINGAPORE - Longer jail terms for sexual offenders passed in Parliament on Monday (Sept 13) are "badly needed" but more has to be done to curb sexual predation at home, said President Halimah Yacob.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, she added: "My stomach churns every time I read about convicted paedophiles who raped young, defenceless girls, often within the sanctity of the home, which is supposed to be a safe haven."

Condemning rape as "the most heinous" crime, she noted how the damage inflicted could last a lifetime for a victim, unlike the convicted paedophile who "walks out free after serving his term" and will not be caned if he is aged above 50.

On Monday, Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) noted in Parliament that the age limit was introduced in 1900 when the average life expectancy for men was about 47.

On the same day, Parliament passed legislation to mete out harsher punishments for several sexual offences.

These include those who engage in sexual activity in the presence of a minor aged between 14 and 16, or cause them to view a sexual image as well as similar offences done against minors aged between 16 and 18, where the offender is in an exploitative relationship with the minor.

The Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill will increase the maximum jail term for these two offences from one to two years.

But legislation intervenes only if the rape is reported, said Madam Halimah, adding that she was unsure how effective existing programmes are against sexual predation at home.

The new law comes after three paedophiles were convicted and sentenced this year.

In April, a man, 44, was sentenced for sexually assaulting and raping his daughter over 7½ years, starting when she was three years old. While her mother was at work, he also showed her child pornography.

Last month, a former Singapore Armed Forces regular serviceman, 24, was sentenced for sexually violating a 15-year-old girl and preying on other victims, including a former schoolmate.

This month, a man, 71, was sentenced for raping his step-granddaughter when she was nine. He had also watched pornography with the victim, who learnt how to search for such videos online from observing him.

Of these three convictions, Madam Halimah highlighted that two cases were revealed only when people related to the victims reported the incidents.

"(For the case involving the 44-year-old,) the rape came to light only when the father molested his daughter's friend and her family reported him," she noted.

"In the second case (involving the step-grandfather), it was discovered when the girl's brother, who witnessed the rape, told the family about it."

Calling for more to be done beyond the law to protect girls, Madam Halimah said: "Fear, shame, intimidation, familial ties are common tools employed by paedophiles to ensnare confused little girls who scarcely know what's happening to them."

She added that the girls need to know that it is safe to talk to someone about adult behaviour that they are uncomfortable with and know where to get help.

"They need to be told that it's not taboo to seek help and they are not to be blamed for wanting to protect themselves," said Madam Halimah.

About 40 per cent of sexual assault cases reported to the police from 2017 to 2019 involved victims below the age of 16, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said in a written response to parliamentary questions in January.

In those three years, there were 6,988 reports of sexual assault, including rape, sexual assault by penetration, outrage of modesty and sexual offences involving children and vulnerable victims.

Of these, 2,798 victims were below 16, and 1,000 victims were between 16 and 20 years old.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.