Penal code review: Marital rape

Husbands may no longer have marital immunity for rape

ILLUSTRATION: MIEL

Husbands who force themselves on their wives will not get immunity from being prosecuted for rape, under a recommendation tabled by a committee tasked to review the Penal Code.

The committee, convened by the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Law in 2016, called for a "full, unqualified repeal of marital immunity for rape" aimed at providing all women, married or unmarried, protection from sexual abuse.

In a letter to Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam dated Aug 31, the Penal Code Review Committee, led by Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and Health Amrin Amin, said that the extensive review involved modernising the Penal Code as "many of the reasons underpinning the previous state of the law are rooted in societal norms which we believe no longer exist in Singapore society".

The committee submitted its report to the Government on Aug 31 recommending a full repeal of the marital immunity for rape, along with other recommendations.

Up till 2007, Singapore did not recognise marital rape - that a husband could rape his wife.

That year, the law was amended to recognise marital rape under certain circumstances which signalled a breakdown in the marriage, such as if the husband and wife were living apart under an interim judgment of divorce or written separation agreement, or if divorce proceedings had begun, or if the wife had commenced proceedings to or had already obtained a personal protection order against her husband.

The repeal would provide equal access to protection for sexually abused wives and ensure consistency with other sexual offences.

The maximum penalty for rape is 20 years' imprisonment, as well as a fine or caning.

Said Mr Shanmugam: "The changes they are recommending, I have talked about some of them in the last two years as to what we would like to see as well.

 
 
 

"Women, for example, I have thought it odd that we still have immunity for husbands who rape their wives. A woman's body is her own. And even if she is your wife, she is entitled to say no. And no means no. So that, they are proposing to repeal the immunity. "

Executive director of Association of Women for Action and Research Corinna Lim welcomed the recommendation.

"A long overdue, full and unqualified repeal of marital immunity for rape would be a momentous step forward for women's rights," she said.

"The repeal would be a powerful signal that the state does not condone any form of violence against women, including within marriage."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2018, with the headline 'Husbands may no longer have marital immunity for rape'. Print Edition | Subscribe