Singapore panel proposes criminalising marital rape

Some experts and activists have argued that rape is a serious offence and a man should not be allowed to hide behind marriage to cause hurt to his wife. — TODAY file pic
Some experts and activists have argued that rape is a serious offence and a man should not be allowed to hide behind marriage to cause hurt to his wife. — TODAY file pic

SINGAPORE, Sept 10 — Any husband who rapes his wife should not be allowed to get away under the law, said a high-level committee set up to review the Singapore Penal Code, as it recommended a full repeal of marital immunity for rape.

All women should be protected from sexual abuse, regardless of their marital status or the identity of the perpetrator, said the Penal Code Review Committee in its report which was released yesterday.

Some experts and activists have long called for rape within marriage to be made an offence. They have argued that rape is a serious offence and a man should not be allowed to hide behind marriage to cause hurt to his wife.

Vulnerable wives — those that are lowly educated, for instance — who are dependent on their husbands are unlikely to be in a position to seek help and invoke conditions required to withdraw marital immunity, some Members of Parliament argued in 2007 when amendments were made to the Penal Code.

Before 2007, the law in Singapore did not recognise that a man could rape his wife. That year, the Penal Code was amended to withdraw marital immunity under certain circumstances, such as if the couple was living apart and had begun divorce proceedings, or if the wife had a protection order against the husband.

The number of marital rape reports remains low in Singapore. From August 2008 to December 2015, the police received 23 reports under the amendments introduced in 2007, said the committee.

The police investigated all reports and there have been no prosecutions under the marital rape provisions to date. However, these numbers do not cover instances where marital immunity was exercised, the committee noted.

If Singapore repeals marital immunity for rape, it would join more than 100 countries including Australia and South Korea that have criminalised marital rape.

Concerns about false accusations of rape by vindictive wives should not be reasons to maintain marital immunity, argued the committee, co-chaired by Indranee Rajah, Second Minister for Finance and Education, and Amrin Amin, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and Health.

“The risk of false accusations of rape is equally present where the complainants and defendant are not married,” it said. Existing safeguards, such as the need to produce evidence, prosecutorial discretion and scrutiny by judges, are in place to prevent miscarriage of justice for all other types of rape accusations.

Even so, additional investigative resources may be required by law enforcement agencies to deal with the increased complexity in determining if there was consent to sexual intercourse, where such accusations arise in a marriage, the committee said in its 506-page report that contained 169 recommendations.

The committee made its recommendation despite some members having differing views, primarily to honour the sanctity and intimacy of marriage.

“For the issue of marital rape in particular, values, culture and traditions are paramount. Nonetheless, to equally protect all women from sexual abuse, whether in a marital relationship or otherwise, the (committee) recommends a full repeal of marital immunity for rape,” it said.

Speaking to reporters on the committee’s report, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said outside the scope of the recommendations, he is inclined to see if more can be done for “people who are in a relationship”.

“They may not be automatically vulnerable but there is a power imbalance, and as a result of the power imbalance, their will is suborned. As a result, there is a lot of violence. Whether the penalties should in some way reflect, it’s not going to be easy; that is something we need to give some thought,” he said, without elaborating further. — TODAY

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