AP: Singapore forms HIV policy panel

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Singapore forms HIV policy panel

published Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Singapore has formed a national policy committee to combat a rise in the number of HIV cases, local media reported Monday.

The announcement came with the news that 137 HIV cases had been reported from July through October, bringing the total of new cases this year to 286, Channel NewsAsia quoted the Health Ministry as saying.

The small island nation has a population of 4.4 million.

"I think the biggest issue and the most important thing is testing and I think we'll be talking more about that over the next few months," said senior state minister Balaji Sadasivan, who will chair the committee. "The fight against AIDS will be a long-drawn fight."

The television station said the new committee would start work Dec. 1, World AIDS Day.

The Health Ministry said that of the 149 cases in the first six months of 2006, 94 percent were males. Most contracted the disease through sexual transmission from casual sex and sex with prostitutes in Singapore and overseas, the report said.

Fifty-nine percent of those infected were heterosexuals and 26 percent were gay, the rest being bisexuals and intravenous drug users, the ministry said.

The Health Ministry said the 137 new infections between June and October are still undergoing investigation.

As of the end of June, a total of 2,852 Singaporeans have been infected with HIV since 1985. More than 1,000 people have died.(AP)

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Fridae.com: Singapore to legalise anal, oral sex - but only for heterosexuals

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Singapore to legalise anal, oral sex - but only for heterosexuals

by News Editor
As part of Singapore's first major penal code amendments in 22 years, anal and oral sex in private among between consenting heterosexual adults will soon be decriminalised but the law criminalising sexual acts between men will remain.

Anal and oral sex will no longer be a criminal offence in Singapore but this will only apply to consenting heterosexual adults while sexual acts between men will remain a crime, the government said on Wednesday.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said it has conducted a detailed review of sexual offences in the penal code. The review was first announced in November 2003 after a huge public outcry erupted over the injustice of convicting a police constable for consensual oral sex with a teenager who was thought to be of legal age until later.

A relic of British colonial rule, Section 377 - which criminalises sexual acts 'against the order of nature with any man, woman or animals' and provides for life imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment and a fine - will be repealed while Section 377A, which criminalises "gross indecency" between males whether in public or in private and prescribes up to two years' imprisonment, will be left as is.

Britain, Hong Kong and Australia have since repealed laws prohibiting sex between men in 1967, 1991 and 1997 (in the state of Tasmania, the last Australian state to do so) respectively.

An "explanatory note" issued by MHA to official newsrooms after office hours on Tuesday, which was obtained by Fridae, read: "The law on sexual offences deals with sexual relationships and embodies what society considers acceptable or unacceptable behaviour.

"When it comes to homosexual acts, the issue is whether Singaporeans are ready to change laws to bring them in line with heterosexual acts. Singapore remains, by and large, a conservative society. Many do not tolerate homosexuality, and consider such acts abhorrent and deviant. Many religious groups also do not condone homosexual acts. This is why the Government is neither encouraging nor endorsing a homosexual lifestyle and presenting it as part of the mainstream way of life."

The news has enraged the local gay community. Miak, who is an active member of several gay groups, said: "What is the arguement for the decriminalising of non-vaginal sex between heterosexuals but not for homosexuals? Is it about how conservative Singapore society is, and how some people find homosexual sex deviant, offensive, repugnant? I think that the same people might also find non-vaginal - meaning oral/anal sex which will soon be legalised - deviant, offensive and repugnant too!"

"The law hasn't been used to prosecute in recent times - so what is the point of retaining it? To maintain a facade of moral standards?"

While welcoming the repeal of Section 377, gay and lesbian advocacy group People Like Us (PLU) said that the "assurance" that it "will not be proactive in enforcing the section against adult males engaging in consensual sex with each other in private" is inadequate as it cannot be relied upon legally.

In a statement issued on Wednesday to call on the government to repeal both Section 377 and 377A, PLU said: "The retention of s.377A, even if not enforced, will signal to many that homophobia is justifiable and acceptable and has the support of the State.

"If the government aims for an open, inclusive society, it should be doing all it can to overturn prejudice and discrimination, rather than give people reason to remain closed-minded through retaining s.377A for symbolic purposes."

Subhas Anandan, president of the Association of Criminal Lawyers in Singapore, questioned the rationale for not repealing Section 377A in a Channelnewsasia interview: "If you are a homosexual or a lesbian, I think you can get into trouble. We are talking about an inclusive society and being more broad-minded. Why do we want to keep these people away, out of the circle? I think we should be more broad-minded, more sympathetic and allow these people to be included in our society."

Other proposed amendments include new laws to combat child prostitution, sex tourism, strengthened prosecution of credit card fraud and the extension of several offences to the electronic media including the Internet as well as a clarification of the definition of an unlawful assembly. In total, the proposed changes would add 19 new ones, affect 19 existing offences, and review penalties, and will now be open to public feedback for a month via reach.gov.sg.

CNA: Penal Code review to add protection for minors, flexibility for judges

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

SINGAPORE : The Singapore government is proposing new laws to better protect young people and those with mental illness from being sexually exploited.

But it is also leaving sexual conduct between consenting adults private.

As part of an extensive review of Singapore's primary criminal legislation, the new Penal Code proposes to de-criminalise anal and oral sex, as long as it's done 'in private between a consenting adult heterosexual couple, aged 16 years and above'.

Some 600 men go to Batam every week for sex with under-aged girls, and most of them are Singaporean men, according to a study conducted earlier this year.

To send a message that all children should be protected from sexual exploitation, the Home Affairs Ministry is proposing new laws to punish those who operate, promote, or go on child sex tours.

But the State wants to stay off private bedroom matters.

Anal and oral sex will no longer be illegal unless the person is forced to perform the act without his or her consent, or if the person is under 16 years of age.

Strict liability will also be extended for those who engage in sexual activities with minors under 14 years of age.

Tougher penalties will also be introduced for outraging the modesty of a minor under 14 years of age.

And in line with the Restricted 21 (R21) film classification, the offence for a person to sell, hire, distribute, exhibit or circulate any obscene object to persons under 20 years old, will be raised to 21 years of age.

The Ministry also wants to change the scope of offences under incest and rape.

Current laws do not allow for prosecution against a husband for raping his wife because he enjoys marital immunity.

The new Penal Code aims to remove this legal protection, on the condition that the wife is legally separated from her husband, or has taken a Personal Protection Order to prevent her husband from having sex with her.

But some say it doesn't go far enough.

Associate Professor Kumaralingam Amirthalingam, a law lecturer with the Faculty of Law at NUS says: "I think we should move ahead and get rid of the immunity in its entirety. Yes, there may be difficulties in the area of enforcement but it's no different from any other area of criminal law. It's difficult to prove but we'll leave it to the criminal system.

"If we have a good prosecutor and good judicial system, then the truth should surface. And I don't think we need to maintain this immunity.

"One example of domestic violence is sexual abuse of the spouse. And to deny the spouse of prosecution of rape seems to be a fundamental violation of the person's rights. Marital rape cannot be condoned, and there should not be an immunity. What the government is doing now is a welcoming step but I think it can go a little bit further."

On sex between homosexuals, the Ministry has plans to keep the status quo.

"These should essentially be seen as private matters within the home. One of the bigger issues is whether this is a signal by the government of greater acceptance of homosexuality in Singapore," says Associate Prof Kumaralingam Amirthalingam.

"I don't think the government is prepared to make a statement on this. But if you look at the history of prosecution under Section 377, which is the relevant provision here, I don't think you'll find any prosecutions of homosexual sexual activity between consenting adults within the home."

"So in that sense, it's a typical Singapore way of managing this issue without getting embroiled in the political and social problems that we're not ready to face," adds the law lecturer.

"I think the general feel is that we're still not ready to introduce major changes in these areas. I think the major changes would be what the government has said a few years ago, that it's all right to have homosexuals working in government departments. I think that's the major change," says Ellen Lee, member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law. She is also the former president of Singapore Association of Women Lawyers.

Still, not everyone agrees.

"If you are a homosexual or a lesbian, I think you can get into trouble. We are talking about an inclusive society and being more broad-minded. Why do we want to keep these people away, out of the circle? I think we should be more broad-minded, more sympathetic and allow these people to be included in our society," says Subhas Anandan, president of the Association of Criminal Lawyers in Singapore.

"It's not necessarily for major legislative change to signal changes. But the legislation will only be changed when there is sufficient justification to warrant it, because the larger section of society think that it's time for those changes to take place," says Ellen Lee.

"With the introduction of the changes, we can expect that judges will be given more leeway. And taking into account the changes of people's behaviour, the different situations, I think now we've got a wider range of circumstances that may justify a more lenient sentence, a more community-based approach that we may really be in sync with society."

The Ministry is also proposing to repeal four laws which have become irrelevant or archaic.

It's also re-defining words like 'sexual', 'touching', 'penetration', and 'obscene' and elaborate on the concept of consent.

Lawyers say the proposed changes are in line with Singapore's push for a more open, compassionate society. - CNA /ls