Govt beefing up laws to deal with online sexual predators

Senior Minister of State for Law and Health Edwin Tong, speaking at the 4th Criminal Law Conference, said the problem of online sexual grooming is more pressing as the Internet is a key part of children's lives today.
Senior Minister of State for Law and Health Edwin Tong, speaking at the 4th Criminal Law Conference, said the problem of online sexual grooming is more pressing as the Internet is a key part of children's lives today.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

As more children go online at an increasingly younger age, the problem of online sexual grooming becomes more dire, and the Government has to respond by strengthening laws to deal with predators.

This includes lowering the minimum age for someone to be convicted of sexual grooming from 21 to 18, said Senior Minister of State for Law and Health Edwin Tong yesterday.

Speaking at the 4th Criminal Law Conference, Mr Tong focused on recent changes to criminal laws. They include the abolition of marital immunity for rape, greater protection for minors against sexual abuse, and making community-based sentences available to more offenders, and for more offences.

Justice, he said, requires laws that reflect social values, respond to new trends in crime, and balance the interests of the victim against fairness to the accused.

Mr Tong said the Internet is very much a part of children's lives today, and it makes the problem of online sexual grooming more pressing. He cited the case of Goh Kar Aip, 20, who last year pleaded guilty to sexual offences against 10 victims.

Goh used social media like Instagram and Facebook to befriend girls aged 12 and 13, asked them for nude pictures and, in some cases, met and sexually violated them.

Under existing laws, only someone who is 21 or older can be convicted of sexual grooming. Amendments to the Penal Code tabled in Parliament last month will lower the age for offenders from 21 to 18.

 
 

Mr Tong said this would address situations in which perpetrators just shy of the age of 21 target children much younger than them.

Lowering the age requirement divided members of a committee tasked with reviewing the Penal Code. Some members supported lowering the age requirement, while others felt the offence should be targeted at adults and not "experimenting teenagers" who were sexting in the context of dating.

Meanwhile, Swiss Attorney-General Michael Lauber, at the conference yesterday, talked about the challenges his office faces in prosecuting large-scale money-laundering and corruption cases, such as the investigations into Malaysian sovereign fund 1MDB.

Mr Lauber also thanked his Singapore counterparts for their "strategic coordination in the 1MDB case, which was conducted in an exemplary manner".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2019, with the headline 'Govt beefing up laws to deal with online sexual predators'. Print Edition | Subscribe