The law on underage sex

We speak to two litigation and dispute lawyers - Mr Foo Cheow Ming, a partner at KhattarWong, and Mr Chen Chee Yen, a partner at Tan Rajah & Cheah.

At what point would a person commit an offence when procuring commercial sex from someone who's under 18?

Mr Chen: There are two essential elements under Section 376B (1) of the Penal Code: the obtainment of sexual services for benefits that are not limited to cash.

The offence is complete only when both are met.

In other words, if you pay first before having sex, the offence would not have occurred at the point when you pay, but only after you have sex.

But if you had sex and refused to pay afterwards, you can still be liable if the sex was obtained because of your agreement to pay.

A man goes for a massage and get "extras" from a person he suspects is under 18. Is this an offence?

Mr Foo: Yes it is, if the extra is sexual intercourse which is paid for.

Mr Chen: There would appear to be an offence if additional payment was made for the "extra".

If no additional payment was made, you can still be liable if there were other forms of consideration, for example, a promise on your part to continue patronising the massage services.

Is the onus on the customer to check the age of the girl in a commercial sex transaction?

How far should the checks go?

Mr Foo: Yes, he should check. The law does not specify how to check. It is uncertain what would be accepted by the courts as adequate checks.

Mr Chen: It would be prudent for a customer to verify the age of the girl by checking the original identification papers - the IC or passport.

The law is very strict in that a reasonable mistake as to the age of the person is not a defence if the offender is above 21 years of age.

But if the girl turns out to be underage, the precaution taken in verifying her age can count as mitigating factors towards compelling the prosecution or the court to exercise leniency in their handling of the case.

Some women are advertised online as social escorts.

How is that different, and is a person breaking the law if he has sex with them?

After all, he did pay for their time.

Mr Chen: Social escorts advertise companionship which does not necessarily entail sex.

If sex was subsequently involved, it can be viewed as a private arrangement between the girl and the customer which is per se not illegal.

But obviously if she turned out to be below 18, you can be charged under the offence.

What law would girls who solicit in public be breaking? Is it different from soliciting online?

Mr Foo: Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act. For girls who solicit online, the scenario and analysis would differ depending on what is actually said or represented in the online advertisement.

6. The Government says prostitution is not an offence.

When and how is it not an offence?

In a legal brothel?

Mr Foo: Prostitution is not an offence in Singapore.

There is no such thing as a legal brothel - there is no system of registration that a customer can check. The only thing illegal is underage commercial sex.

Indonesian man in online vice case
Click on thumbnail to view (Photos: ST, TNP)
For more photos, click here.
Howard Shaw among 4 more men charged over sex with underage girl
Click on thumbnail to view (Photos: ST, TNP, Shin Min, Wanbao)
For more photos, click here.


This article was first published in The New Paper.

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