Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
In January amendments to the Criminal Law Reform Act, the Penal Code, and the Protection from Harassment Act took effect and were welcomed by NGOs for increasing protections for victims of rape, abuse, and harassment. Under the amended laws, individuals convicted under the Penal Code for any offenses committed against vulnerable victims–children below the age of 14, persons with mental or physical disabilities, and domestic workers–are subject to up to twice the maximum penalty. This is also the case for individuals who repeatedly breach protection orders. The amended law also decriminalizes attempted suicide.
Rape and Domestic Violence: Under the law rape is a crime, with maximum penalties of 20 years’ imprisonment and the possibility of caning. As of January the law abolished marital immunity for rape and expanded the definition of rape to make it gender neutral. For offenses affecting the human body committed by partners in a close or intimate relationship, even if unmarried, the law imposed up to twice the maximum penalty for these offenses outside such relationships. Domestic violence is a crime. Victims may obtain court orders restraining the respondent and barring a spouse or former spouse from the victim’s home until the court is satisfied the spouse has ceased aggressive behavior. The government enforced the laws on rape and domestic violence.
Identity protection orders are mandatory from the time a police report of a sexual crime (or child abuse) 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 underreported but the number of reported incidents was increasing, which they stated was the result of advocacy campaigns to address social stigma.
The women’s rights advocacy group AWARE reported a sharp increase in domestic violence and abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially during the two-month lockdown from April to June. In May the organization’s helpline received an all-time record 752 calls; 180 of these were related to family violence–a 137 percent year-on-year increase–and 150 to emotional and psychological distress–a 436 percent year-on-year increase. From April 7 to May 6, a total of 476 police reports were filed for domestic violence compared to a usual monthly average of 389. In response, the government set up a National Care Hotline to provide psychological and emotional support.
In June the high court sentenced serial sex predator Muhammad Anddy Faizul Mohamed Eskah to 22 years’ imprisonment and 24 strokes of the cane. The judge called his offenses against 19 young women, mostly minors, “one of the most shocking and horrifying” cases of sexual crimes to come before the court.
In July a court sentenced a university student to 12 days of detention and 80 hours of community service for strangling his former girlfriend until she lost consciousness. Women’s groups and members of parliament expressed dismay at the light punishment imposed by the court. Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugam responded that it was not the courts but the legal policy framework that was at issue, and he committed to review the penalty framework for similar cases.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Type I (a) (as classified by the World Health Organization) FGM/C was practiced among a portion of the Muslim population. There was no legislation banning FGM/C.
Sexual Harassment: Harassment is a crime, and the law covers harassment within and outside the workplace, cyberbullying, and bullying of children. The law also prescribes mandatory caning and a minimum of two years’ imprisonment on conviction of any charge for “outraging modesty” that causes the victim to fear death or injury. The law also subjects to a fine persons convicted of using threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behavior. 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 by a fine, imprisonment for up to 12 months, or both.
As of January the law introduced criminal offenses for technology-related crimes such as voyeurism and sexual exposure. The Protection from Harassment (Amendment) Act made doxing (publishing private information) an offense, improved judicial procedures for victims of online falsehood harassment, and enhanced protection for harassment victims.
According to police statistics, outrage of modesty incidents decreased by 7.1 percent in 2019 to 1,605. Media gave significant coverage to sexual harassment convictions throughout the year. The government ran awareness campaigns encouraging women to report molestation, and several members of parliament urged the government to address sexual harassment in the workplace more actively.
The National University of Singapore was the focus of several high-profile sexual harassment cases. In October the university filed a police report and dismissed a residential college fellow accused of sexual misconduct for behaving inappropriately toward two undergraduate students. Criticized for its handling of the case, the university pledged to be more transparent. The university announced in November that the former director of its East Asian Institute had behaved inappropriately toward a colleague in 2018 and issued him a written warning. In December the university filed a police report and dismissed a political science professor for sexually harassing a student.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
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.).
Polygyny is permitted for Muslim men but is limited and strictly regulated by the Registry of Muslim Marriages, which oversees Muslim marriages and other family law matters. Polygynous marriages constituted 0.2 percent of Muslim marriages.
Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents as long as one parent is a citizen of the country and both parents are registered as legally married. The law requires that all births be registered within 14 days. Dual citizens born abroad to citizen parents must renounce their foreign citizenship after turning 21 to retain their citizenship.
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.
The Ministry of Social and Family Development investigated 1,088 child abuse cases in 2019, a 6.5 percent decrease from 2018.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law characterizes unmarried persons younger than age 21 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 would 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 age 16. 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 younger than 14 it is punishable by as long as 40 years in prison and a fine or caning.
The law prohibits commercial sex provided by anyone below age 18. 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.
As of January the law increased the protection of minors from sexual exploitation and made a distinction between child pornography and other types of pornography. The law made it a separate offense to use or involve a child below age 16 in the production of child abuse material and criminalized every person involved in the supply and consumption of child abuse material. The law criminalized and introduced penalties for offenses, such as sexual intercourse, pornography, or sexual grooming, committed in the context of exploitative relationships when the victim was above age 16 but below age 18, even if the victim had consented.
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 https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.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.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
There is no comprehensive legislation addressing equal opportunities for persons with disabilities in education or employment or preventing discrimination.
The Ministry of Social and Family Development is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and coordinates implementation of the government’s 2017-21 policy plan for programs and services in the disability sector, which focuses on greater inclusiveness. In 2019, amendments to the Employment Act provided more grants, legal protection, and training to employers and persons with disabilities to provide better safeguards for employees, including persons with disabilities. In March the Ministry of Manpower announced additional training grants for persons with disabilities and allowed employers to offset up to S$400 ($230) of an employee’s monthly salary.
The government maintained a comprehensive code on barrier-free accessibility and standards for facilities for persons with physical disabilities in all new buildings, and mandated the progressive upgrading of older structures. The “SG Enable” program, 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 government reported that in 2019 companies hired more than 9,000 persons with disabilities through use of government-sponsored support programs, an increase of 4.7 percent from 2018.
The Disabled People’s Association (DPA), an advocacy group, stated that discrimination against persons with disabilities was underreported because affected individuals either did not file a complaint or were unaware of their rights and the available resources. The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices received an average of one complaint per year of discrimination against persons with disabilities. DPA also 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. Children with moderate to severe educational needs were required to participate in compulsory education until they reached age 15. 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 October the government inaugurated a mandatory national disability insurance program providing policyholders with a monthly payout for life if the person suffers from a severe disability requiring long-term care.
The law allows voters who are unable to vote in the manner described by law to receive assistance from election officials, who are under oath to maintain voting secrecy. For the general election held in July, the government improved support for persons with disabilities. Voters with visual disabilities could cast their vote independently with stencils, wheelchair users could use a portable booth placed on their laps, and those with physical disabilities could instruct election officials to mark the ballot paper on their behalf. Polling stations were barrier-free with special drop-off points.
Ethnic Malays constituted approximately 15 percent of the population. The constitution recognizes them as the indigenous inhabitants of the country and charges the government to support and promote their political, educational, religious, economic, social, cultural, and linguistic interests. The government took steps to encourage 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 the result of employment discrimination.
The Presidential Council on Minority Rights examines all pending bills so 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, in all forms of public housing.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Section 377A of the penal code criminalizes consensual male-to-male sexual relations, subject to up to two years’ imprisonment. Authorities have not enforced this since 2010 and have stated since then that they do not intend to do so. There were no indications the provision was used intentionally to intimidate or coerce. Its 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.
A constitutional challenge to section 377A which combined three separate cases was dismissed by the high court in March. Justice See Kee Oon rejected arguments that the law was unconstitutional and stated the law still served “the purpose of safeguarding public morality by showing societal moral disapproval of male homosexual acts” even if it was not enforced. Justice See declared that a 2014 decision by the Court of Appeal, the highest court in the country, retaining section 377A remained binding. All three plaintiffs filed appeals in the Court of Appeal and hearings were scheduled for early 2021.
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 and same-sex marriage is not permitted, LGBTI persons were unable to receive certain government services and benefits available to other citizens before reaching 35.
As of January same-sex partners were covered under the amended Protection from Harassment Act and enjoyed access to legal protections such as expedited protection orders in cases of harassment or violence, including by close and intimate partners.
LGBTI persons experienced 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.
Individuals were prohibited from updating their gender on official documents unless they underwent sex reassignment surgery.
Media censorship of LGBTI individuals resulted in underrepresentation and negative stereotypes of the LGBTI community. In July national public broadcaster Mediacorp came under public scrutiny after it portrayed a gay character in one of its television shows as a pedophile with a sexually transmitted disease. Mediacorp released an apology for the portrayal. 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.).
There is no legislation barring employers from discriminating against job applicants based on their HIV status. The government’s guidelines for employers state that employees who are dismissed based on their medical status have grounds for wrongful dismissal claims against their employers, including on the grounds of HIV. Many persons living with HIV are, however, afraid to disclose their HIV status during the job application process and, during employment, fear dismissal if they are discovered to have made a false declaration.
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. Some HIV-positive persons sought diagnosis and treatment outside the country. In September the Ministry of Health added 16 drugs used for the treatment of HIV to its list of subsidized drugs, making them more affordable. Advocacy group Action for AIDS welcomed the move as helping to reduce stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS.
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, however, are barred from obtaining work permits, student visas, or immigrant visas.