Penal code review to better protect vulnerable

Shanmugam: It may include new offences, harsher penalties for those who target group

Law Minister K Shanmugam said that more must be done to protect children, domestic workers and people with disabilities.
Law Minister K Shanmugam said that more must be done to protect children, domestic workers and people with disabilities.PHOTO: ST FILE

An ongoing review of the Penal Code may include new offences and harsher punishments for those who target the vulnerable, Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

In a keynote address at an event organised by the Association of Muslim Lawyers last night, Mr Shanmugam, who is also Home Affairs Minister, said that more must be done to protect children, domestic workers and those with disabilities.

"How we treat them reflects on us as a society," said Mr Shanmugam. "We have to do right by them."

Drawing on recent high-profile cases where vulnerable victims were hurt or killed by people who are supposed to be protecting them, he added that the Government is exploring how children can be better protected against sexually abusive and exploitative behaviour, such as child pornography.

Cases raised by Mr Shanmugam included the deaths of Ms Annie Ee, who was intellectually disabled, and two-year-old Mohamad Daniel Mohamad Nasser in 2015.

Ms Ee died after a couple whom she was living with beat her repeatedly. Mohamad Daniel died from bleeding in the brain after his mother and her live-in boyfriend kicked and slapped him for days.

Offenders in both cases were sentenced to between 10 and 161/2 years in jail. Ms Ee's male abuser was given 14 strokes of the cane while the man who contributed to Mohamad Daniel's death got 12 strokes.

Domestic workers are another group that deserve stronger protection, said Mr Shanmugam. He raised the case of Filipina Thelma Oyasan Gawidan, whose weight plummeted from 49kg to 29.4kg after she was restricted to a 15-month diet of sliced bread and instant noodles by her employers. In a case that concluded last year, her employers were slapped with a 10-month jail term following prosecutors' appeal.

Mr Shanmugam also noted the public outrage over what was perceived as inadequate punishment for mixed martial arts instructor Joshua Robinson, which came in an online petition with more than 26,000 signatures.

Last year, Robinson was sentenced to four years' jail for a range of offences from sexual penetration of two 15-year-olds to showing an obscene film to a six-year-old girl. Investigators also found 5,902 obscene films in his apartment.

Such crimes are "particularly heinous, and all are senseless", said Mr Shanmugam.

On the role that the law can play in protecting the vulnerable better, he said that the law is about saving lives. "The law is not a game... My duty is to make sure that these games are not played. So we will change the law."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2018, with the headline 'Penal code review to better protect vulnerable'. Subscribe