Changes to give greater protection to women and children, but MPs want more
LEONG WEE KEAT
FURTHER protection extended to the vulnerable, under proposed changes in the Penal Code, received the thumbs up from Members of Parliament (MPs) yesterday. But they asked for the umbrella to be further extended.
MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC Indranee Rajah and Nominated MPs Eunice Olsen and Siew Kum Hong argued for the removal of marital immunity from rape for men.
Under the proposed changes made by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), husbands can no longer plead marital immunity in six circumstances if they are charged with raping their spouses.
Some of the circumstances include if a couple is waiting for their divorce to be finalised or if a woman has taken out a court injunction to restrain her husband from having sex with her.
Describing this as a calibrated approach, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Law Ho Peng Kee said total abolition of marital immunity would change the complexion of marriage drastically with negative impact on the marital relationship.
Ms Indranee, who acknowledged that “certain inroads have been made”, said violence against women would have already occurred before any of the six circumstances took place. “Removing marital immunity altogether would send a strong signal that sexual relationships should be based on mutual consent,” she said.
Ms Olsen also pointed out an apparent contradiction in the MHA’s reasoning of preserving and respecting intimacy in a marriage, when explaining the rationale to retain marital immunity for men.
Citing one proposed amendment to repeal an offence to entice, take away or detain a married woman with the intention of having illicit intercourse with her, Ms Olsen asked: “Why is one law, which was meant to symbolise the state’s respect for marriages, repealed while another purporting to do the same is kept?”
Arguing that marriage does not grant immunity to the husband or wife from the rule of law, Ms Olsen said the proposed changes gave the impression that “the woman has a right to protect her purse, but not her body; or at least, not when it comes to rape”.
Mr Siew said the MHA’s explanation of “conjugal rights” suggested a husband “had some sort of right to sex with his wife”.
He added: “This seems to be derived from the archaic view that a woman, by marrying a man, has irrevocably consented to sex with him.”
Another proposed sexual offence to come under the microscope was sexual grooming, where an adult befriends and establishes emotional control over a child, paving the way for sexual abuse or rape.
MP for Bukit Panjang Teo Ho Pin asked why there is a need for the adult and the child to meet twice before an offence could be made out.
Besides the spotlight on sexual offences, concerns were also raised over increases in maximum prison sentences.
Non-Constituency MP Sylvia Lim pointed out proposed increases in maximum jail terms for 110 offences. The jail term for an assault on a MP or a minister, for instance, could be quadrupled from a maximum of seven years to life imprisonment.
While she accepted that fines have to be increased due to inflation, Ms Lim was puzzled over the increase in jail terms – given that the courts have more discretionary punishments now. She said: “The loss of liberty 20 years ago does not cost less today.”