UPDATE: The hansard for the parliamentary debate on section 376B is found here : [Link]. Most MPs support the amendments to the penal code as the changes will protect minors. I think at that time they may not have considered the situation in which a greedy, immoral and deceptive 17 yr old who looks older than her actual age willingly offers services to unsuspecting men who have no intention of breaking the law. I look for similar cases around the world and found a few. French football stars engaged a 17 yr old who claimed she was 19[Link] - the woman involved exploited her notoriety to become a model and said the men had treated her with respect and should "be left alone". Once the prosecutors found that the footballers involved did not know the girl was underage, they called for the charges to be dropped[Link]. If law enforcement prosecute people who have no intention of committing a crime, and apply the law in a way that departs from the original intent of the law, they will end up not protecting the people it is suppose to protect. The harsh punishment that goes way beyond what the 60 men deserve for their moral transgression will destroy many lives without generating any good for our society.
"The men include a senior banker, a company director, a senior vice-president of
a private company, lawyers, a senior police officer, a primary school principal who is married with a child as well as a scholarship recipient." - The New Paper Report[Link]
According to The New Paper, 60 men may be charge in court soon for engaging the services of an underage girl. The sleazy details which I won't be covering in my posting can be found the Saturday and Sunday edition of The New Paper. These men engaged the services of a girl who was advertised as above legal age but turned out to be underage. According to reports, these men had no intention, no idea and no clue that they had broken the law until the police called them up. In Singapore, engaging such services is not illegal but it is illegal to solicit (advertised) and live off the immoral earnings (pimp). However, the law was revised in 2008 to make the procuring services of those under 18 illegal (Section 376B). The funny thing is underage sex that involve no money is set at 16 yrs of age( 14 yrs under Section 376A and 16 yrs old under Women's Charter ).
Some of you may take a moralistic stand and say these men deserve it as they have been acted immorally. Many had to resign from their jobs, you can take it that those with families may be facing enormous strain and now they face charges that may lead to time in jail. When I read that "lawyers" will also be charged, the thought on my mind was what kind of law are dealing with when lawyers can end up breaking it when they had no intention of doing so. The Section 376B added in 2008[Link] to prevent human trafficking and exploitation of minors. This law is supposed to protect minors from being forced into the trade and trafficked across borders. So we can judge the effectiveness of this law by looking at the outcome that resulted from the enforcement of this law.
In Jan 2012, a former SLA exec was jailed was jailed 9 months for engaging an underage Vietnamese girl[Link]. The Vietnamese girl was not trafficked into Singapore and exploited by pimps and syndicates. According to media reports, she hatched the whole idea of coming to Singapore to make easy money herself - you can see her as an young but immoral entrepreneur. She bought an air ticket, flew to Singapore and sold her services to Singapore men. She lied to the men that she is of legal age.
Based on media reports, the 60 men was involved with a local girl who apparently knew what she was doing and lied about her age(or the pimp lied) to get clients. Clients who never intended to break the law now face jail sentences.
The rationale for 376B is to protect young women from traffickers and being exploited. However, in many of the cases prosecuted under 376B, the young women are not trafficked - they are more often than not materialistic young women who intentionally sell their services for money.
In this situation the police can exercise discretion whether to press charges and demolish the lives of these 60 men - who other than having a lust for women may be responsible people in all other respect. The problem is they had decided to go ahead with a number of earlier cases and dropping the charge against these 60 men will be seen as a display for double standards and that will undermine their reputation. There will be an ugly and unnecessary fallout of they go ahead as there are families and children involved here.
Law enforcement is not just a technical and mechanical process because laws are never perfectly written. There has to be wisdom and compassion in the enforcement of our laws to get good outcomes - the spirit of the law should not be forgotten in its enforcement. 60 men some of whom with families who never intended to break the law now face jail sentences and a media circus that may ultimately destroy their lives and that of their families.