The minimum age at which a person is criminally responsible for his actions will be raised from seven to 10, following Parliament's approval of a new law yesterday.
The existing age of seven is a colonial inheritance and needs to be updated, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin during the debate on the Criminal Law Reform Bill.
In explaining the move, he said: "We need to strike a balance between protection of the public and fairness to young children who may not be able to understand the consequences of their action."
He added that there is no international consensus on the appropriate minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR), and that the age floor of seven is on the lower end of the spectrum.
Mr Amrin told the House that criminal activity among children below age 10 is very low in Singapore. But criminal activity increases in those aged 10 and older, noting that most young offenders commit property offences like theft.
"On balance, we think an MACR of 10 years old would be more appropriate in our context," he added.
Under the new law, children below age 10 and those between 10 and 12 who are not mature enough to understand the nature and consequences of their conduct will not be convicted, said Mr Amrin.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Home Affairs is developing a framework for the rehabilitation of these young children, and the new MACR will come into effect only after that has been finalised, said Mr Amrin.
Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) asked if the Government would consider further raising the minimum age to 12, arguing that logical thinking and problem-solving skills develop only between ages 11 and 15.
Responding, Mr Amrin said in his wrap-up speech that there is no scientific consensus on what the benchmark should be and the change would not be a significant threat to public safety.
Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC) expressed worry over the upward trend of "beyond parental control" cases, set against the increase of the MACR. He cited a possible phenomenon where unruly, unsupervised young children could commit crimes without liabilities.
Referring to the framework mentioned earlier, Mr Amrin said the mechanism will ensure that those below the minimum age will still have their behaviour addressed.
Tan Tam Mei