Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a crime, with maximum penalties of 20 years’ imprisonment and the possibility of caning. By law only a man can commit rape. A man cannot legally be a victim of rape but may be the victim of unlawful sexual penetration, which carries the same penalties as rape. Spousal rape is generally not a crime, but husbands who force their wives to have intercourse may be prosecuted for other offenses, such as assault. Spousal rape is a criminal offense when the couple is separated, subject to an interim divorce order that has not become final, or subject to a written separation agreement, as well as when a court has issued a protection order against the husband. Domestic violence is a crime. Victims may obtain court orders restraining the respondent and barring the spouse or former spouse from the home until the court is satisfied the spouse has ceased aggressive behavior.
Twenty-one women’s and social sector groups issued a joint press release signaling their strong support for repealing marital immunity for rape.
In March parliament amended the Criminal Procedure Code and the Evidence Act to increase protection for victims of sexual crimes and child abuse within the judicial system. Identity protection orders became mandatory from the time a police report is lodged. Victims of sexual crimes may video-record their testimony instead of having to recount it in person. Victims may testify in closed-door hearings, with physical screens to shield them from the accused person. Lawyers may not ask questions about a victim’s sexual history, unless the court grants them permission to do so.
Several voluntary welfare organizations that assisted abused women noted that gender-based violence was under-reported, which they said was the result of social stigma and a lack of understanding among the population at large as well as among police. The press gave prominent coverage to several instances of abuse or violence against women.
Welfare and advocacy organization AWARE, which operated a specialized care service for survivors of sexual violence, collaborated with police to develop a training video. The video, first used in the reporting year, helped police understand how victims of sexual crime feel, why they behave in certain ways, and how police and other first responders can assist them effectively.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Type I (a) (as classified by the World Health Organization) female genital mutilation/cutting was practiced among a small portion of the Muslim population. Referred to locally as “ceremonial” female circumcision, it was undertaken as a standardized procedure by designated doctors under the supervision of the Muslim Healthcare Professionals Association. There was no legislation banning FGM/C.
Sexual Harassment: Harassment is a crime and the law includes harassment within and outside the workplace, cyberbullying, and bullying of children. The law also prescribes mandatory caning and minimum of two years’ imprisonment on conviction on any charge of “outraging modesty” that causes the victim to fear death or injury. The law also subjects persons convicted of using threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behavior to maximum fines of 5,000 SGD ($3,650). It also provides a range of self-help measures, civil remedies, and enhanced criminal sanctions to protect against harassment. Additionally, stalking is an offense punishable with a maximum fine of 5,000 SGD ($3,650), imprisonment for up to 12 months, or both.
In February police highlighted sexual molestation on public transport as a concern. Outrage of modesty advisory posters were placed in buses and in subway stations, and public education videos screened on subway platforms. The police “Citizens on Patrol” program expanded its presence to the subway system, where volunteers gave out flyers raising awareness about molestation. In February and again in May, media reported cases in which a woman who was molested while traveling by bus enlisted the help of the bus driver and commuters to detain the alleged perpetrator until police arrived.
According to police statistics, outrage of modesty incidents increased by more than 21 percent in the first six months of the year (compared to the same period in 2017 (from 685 to 832 cases). AWARE reported that government campaigns encouraging women to report sexual molestation led to the increase. Media gave significant coverage to sexual harassment convictions throughout the year, and several members of parliament urged the government to address sexual harassment in the workplace more actively.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal rights as men, including civil liberties, employment, commercial activity, and education. Women were well represented in many professions (see section 7.d.).
No laws mandate nondiscrimination in hiring based on gender; prohibit employers from asking questions about a prospective employee’s family status during a job interview; require flexible or part-time work schedules for employees with minor children; or establish public provision of childcare. The Ministry of Manpower set aside 30 million SGD ($21.9 million) to help employers implement flexible workplace practices.
Polygyny is permitted for Muslim men but is limited and strictly regulated by the Syariah Court and the Registry of Muslim Marriages, which oversees Muslim marriages and other family law matters. Polygynous marriages constituted 0.2 percent of Muslim marriages.
Both men and women have the right to initiate divorce proceedings.
Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents. The law requires that all births be registered within 14 days.
Child Abuse: The law criminalizes mistreatment of children, including physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. The government enforced the law and provided support services for child-abuse victims.
Early and Forced Marriage: The law characterizes unmarried persons younger than 21 years as minors and persons younger than 14 as children. Individuals younger than 21 who wish to marry must obtain parental consent, and the couple must attend a mandatory marriage preparation program. Individuals younger than 18 also require a special license from the Ministry of Social and Family Development to wed or, if they are marrying under Muslim law, they require permission from the kadi (a Muslim judge appointed by the president), who will grant permission only under special conditions.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes human trafficking, including child sex trafficking, and authorities enforced the law.
The age of consent for noncommercial sex is 16 years. Sexual intercourse with a person younger than 16 is punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison, a fine, or both, and if the victim is 14 or younger punishable by as long as 20 years in prison and a fine or caning.
Authorities may detain (but generally do not prosecute) persons younger than 18 whom they believe to be engaged in prostitution. They prosecute those who organize or profit from prostitution, bring women or girls to the country for prostitution, or coerce or deceive women or girls into prostitution. The law is ambiguous regarding employment of persons ages 16 to 18 in the production of pornography.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
Although estimates varied widely, the government estimated there were approximately 2,500 members in the Jewish community. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
There is no comprehensive legislation addressing equal opportunities for persons with disabilities in education or employment. Electoral law allows voters who are unable to vote in the manner described by law to receive assistance from election officials to mark and cast their ballots.
In December 2017 a couple was imprisoned after the severe abuse they inflicted on their intellectually disabled roommate over a period of eight months resulted in her death. Tan Hui Zhen was jailed for 16 years and six months and her husband, Pua Hak Chuan, was jailed for 14 years and given 14 strokes of the cane for causing grievous hurt with a weapon to Annie Ee Yu Lian. The case gained national attention due to the victim’s vulnerability, and a national petition called for harsher punishments for the pair.
The Ministry of Social and Family Development is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and coordinates implementation of the government’s 2017-2021 policy plan for programs and services in the disability sector, which focuses on greater inclusiveness. The ministry began implementing the policy plan in January.
The government maintained a comprehensive code on barrier-free accessibility, established standards for facilities for persons with physical disabilities in all new buildings, and mandated the progressive upgrading of older structures. SG Enable, established by the Ministry of Social and Family Development, administered several assistance schemes for persons with disabilities, and provided a job training and placement program for them.
The Disabled People’s Association, an advocacy group, reported private discrimination against persons with disabilities who were seeking employment.
The country provided a high level of educational support for children and minors with disabilities from preschool to university. Elementary and secondary levels both included mainstreaming programs and separate education schools. All primary schools and the majority of secondary schools had specialist support for students with mild disabilities. Mainstreaming programs catered primarily to children with physical disabilities. Separate education schools, which focused on children who required more intensive and specialized assistance, were operated by social service organizations and involved a means-tested payment of fees. The Special Educational Needs Support Offices, established in all publicly funded tertiary education institutions including universities, provided support for students. Informal provisions permitted university matriculation for those with visual, hearing, or physical disabilities through assistive technology devices and services such as note taking.
In the 2015 general election, voters with visual disabilities could cast their vote independently with stencils. The Disabled People’s Association recommended that persons with disabilities be permitted to choose who would assist them to mark and cast their ballots.
Ethnic Malays constituted approximately 13 percent of the population. The constitution recognizes them as the indigenous persons of the country and charges the government to support and promote their political, educational, religious, economic, social, cultural, and language interests. The government took steps to encourage greater educational achievement among Malay students and upgrading of skills among Malay workers, including through subsidies for tertiary education fees for poorer Malays. Malay educational performance has improved, although ethnic Malays have not yet reached the educational or socioeconomic levels achieved by the ethnic Chinese majority, the ethnic Indian minority, or the Eurasian community. Malays remained underrepresented at senior corporate levels and, some asserted, in certain sectors of the government and the military. This reflected their historically lower educational and economic levels, but some argued it also was a result of employment discrimination.
The Presidential Council on Minority Rights examines all pending bills to ensure they do not disadvantage any particular group. It also reports to the government on matters that affect any racial or religious community.
Government policy designed to facilitate interethnic harmony and prevent the formation of racial enclaves enforced ethnic ratios, applicable for all ethnic groups, to all forms of public housing.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Section 377A of the penal code criminalizes male-to-male sexual relations, subject to up to two years’ imprisonment. The law does not criminalize female-to-female sexual relations. Authorities have not enforced the section for several years and stated that they will not do so. The prime minister and the minister for home affairs and law have said they personally are not opposed to male-to-male sexual relations. There were no indications the law was used intentionally to intimidate or coerce. The law’s existence, however, intimidates some gay men, particularly those who are victims of sexual assault but who will not report it to the police for fear of being charged with violating Section 377A.
No laws explicitly protect the LGBTI community from discrimination based on sexual orientation. Moreover, since single persons are prevented from purchasing government housing reserved for married couples until age 35, LGBTI persons, were unable to receive certain government services and benefits available to other citizens before reaching 35.
In September disc jockey Johnson Ong filed a constitutional challenge to Section 377A on the grounds it violates the right to “life and personal liberty” and the right to equality. The challenge argues that sexual orientation “is unchangeable or suppressible at unacceptable personal cost” and that the law applies only to sex between two men and not between two women. The High Court held a pretrial conferences in September.
LGBTI persons may experience discrimination in the military, which classifies individuals by sexual orientation and evaluates them on a scale of “effeminacy” to determine fitness for combat training and other assignments. Openly gay servicemen faced threats and harassment from their peers and were often ostracized.
A requirement that applicants for government employment declare their sexual orientation on job applications is no longer required.
Individuals were prohibited from updating their gender on official unless they underwent sex reassignment surgery.
Media censorship perpetuated negative stereotypes of LGBTI individuals by restricting portrayals of LGBTI life. The IMDA censored films and television shows with LGBTI themes. According to the IMDA website, authorities allow the broadcast of LGBTI themes on television “as long as the presentation does not justify, promote, or glamorize such a lifestyle” (see section 2.a.).
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Some persons with HIV/AIDS claimed that they were socially marginalized and faced employment discrimination or possible termination if they revealed their HIV/AIDS status. There is no law to prevent employers from firing a person based on their HIV status. Because of the above, many persons living with HIV fear losing their jobs if they disclose their HIV status. Some HIV-positive persons seek diagnosis and treatment outside the country.
The government discouraged discrimination, supported initiatives that countered misperceptions about HIV/AIDS, and publicly praised employers that welcomed workers with HIV/AIDS. HIV-positive foreigners are barred from obtaining work permits, student visas or immigrant visas.