Caning in Singapore
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Of these, judicial caning, for which Singapore is best known, is the most severe. It is reserved for male criminals aged under 50, for a wide range of offences under the Criminal Procedure Code. Caning is also a legal form of punishment for delinquent male members of the military (Singapore Armed Forces—SAF) and this is administered in the SAF Detention Barracks. Caning is also an official punishment in reform schools and as a prison disciplinary measure.
In a milder form, caning is used to punish male youths in many Singaporean schools for serious misbehaviour. The government encourages this but does not allow caning for girls - instead girls receive a longer form of detention - and no more than 6 strokes are permitted.
A much smaller cane or other implement is also used by some parents as punishment for their children of either sex. This is allowed in Singapore but is not encouraged by the government, and the child must not be injured.
- 1 Judicial caning
- 2 Prison caning
- 3 Military caning
- 4 Reformatory caning
- 5 School caning
- 6 Parental caning
- 7 Objections to corporal punishment
- 8 In arts and media
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
See also: Judicial corporal punishment
Caning, as a form of legally sanctioned corporal punishment for convicted criminals, was first introduced to Singapore and Malaysia (both then part of British Malaya) during the British colonial period. It was formally codified under the Straits Settlements Penal Code Ordinance IV.
In that era, offences punishable by caning were similar to those punishable by birching or flogging in England and Wales, and included:
- Aggravated forms of theft
- Assault with the intention of sexual abuse
- A second or subsequent conviction of rape
- A second or subsequent offence relating to prostitution
- Living on or trading in prostitution.
Caning remained on the statute book after Malaysia declared independence from Britain, and likewise in Singapore after it ceased to be part of Malaysia. Subsequent legislation has been passed by the Parliament of Singapore over the years to increase the minimum strokes an offender receives, and the number of crimes that may be punished with caning.
- A convicted male criminal who is between the ages of 18 and 50 and has been certified medically fit by a medical officer may be subjected to judicial caning.
- He will receive a maximum of 24 strokes of the cane on any one occasion, irrespective of the total number of offences committed.
- If the offender is under 18 he may receive up to 10 strokes of the cane, but a lighter rattan cane will be used in this case. Boys under 16 may be sentenced to caning only by the High Court and not by district or juvenile courts.
- The convict will not be caned if he has been sentenced to death.
- The rattan cane shall not exceed half an inch (1.27 cm) in diameter and 1.2 metres long.
Any male criminal, whether sentenced to caning or not, may also be caned in prison if he breaks prison rules.
The following groups of people are not liable to be caned for committing offences that may warrant a caning under Singaporean law:
- Men sentenced to death
- Men aged 50 and above
- Men certified medically unfit for caning
Offences punishable by caning
Singaporean law allows caning to be ordered for over 30 offences, including hostage-taking / kidnapping, robbery, gang robbery with murder, drug abuse, vandalism, rioting, sexual abuse (molest), and unlawful possession of weapons. Caning is also a mandatory punishment for certain offences such as rape, drug trafficking, drunk driving, illegal money-lending, and for visiting foreigners who overstay their visa by more than 90 days (a measure designed to deter illegal immigrant workers).
While most caning offences were inherited from British law, the Vandalism Act was only introduced after independence in 1966, in what has been argued to be an attempt to suppress an opposition party. Vandalism was originally prohibited by the Minor Offences Act, which made it punishable by a fine of up to S$50 and/or a week in jail, but did not permit caning.
In 1993, the number of caning sentences ordered by the courts was 3,244. By 2007, this figure had doubled to 6,404, of which about 95% were actually implemented. Since 2007, the number of caning sentences has been experiencing a significant decline year after year, reaching just 2,318 in 2011.
Caning takes place at several establishments around Singapore, notably Changi Prison but also including Queenstown Remand Centre, where Michael P. Fay was caned in 1994. Canings are also administered in the Drug Rehabilitation Centres.
|Year||Number of sentences||Sentences carried out||Notes|
|2008||4,078||98.7%||January to September only |
|2009||4,228||99.8%||January to November only |
A rattan cane four feet (1.2 metres) long and half an inch (1.27 cm) thick is used for prison and judicial canings. It is at about twice as thick as the canes used in the school and military contexts. The cane is soaked in water beforehand to make it more flexible and prevent it from splitting during use. The Prisons Department denies that canes are soaked in brine, but has said that the cane is treated with antiseptic before use to prevent infection. A lighter cane is used for offenders aged under 18.
Caning is in practice always ordered in addition to a jail sentence and never as a punishment by itself. It is administered in an enclosed area in the prison, out of view of the public and other inmates. Those present are limited to the offender, prison wardens, medical officers, the caning officer and sometimes high-ranking prison officials to witness the punishment.
An inmate sentenced to caning is not told when he will be caned, being notified only on the day his sentence is to be carried out. He is ordered to strip naked; the prison doctor then examines him to check whether he is medically fit for caning, by measuring his blood pressure and other physical conditions. If the doctor gives the green light, the inmate then receives his caning, but if he is certified unfit for punishment, he is sent back to the court for his prison term to be increased instead. A prison officer confirms with him the number of strokes he is to receive.
The inmate is then led to the A-shaped frame (called a "caning trestle") and his wrists and ankles secured tightly to the frame by strong leather straps in such a way that he assumes a bent-over position on the frame at an angle of close to 90° at the hip. Protective padding is placed on his lower back to protect the vulnerable kidney and lower spine area from any strokes that land off-target. The punishment is administered on the offender's bare buttocks. The caning officer takes up position beside the frame and delivers the number of strokes specified in the sentence, at intervals of 10 to 15 seconds. He is required to put his full force into each stroke. The strokes are administered all in one caning session, unless the medical officer certifies that the inmate cannot receive any more strokes because of his condition, in which case the rest of the strokes are converted to additional prison time.
Medical treatment and the effects
The immediate physical effects when the cane comes into contact have been exaggerated in some popular accounts; nevertheless, some physical damage may be inflicted, depending on the number of strokes. Michael P. Fay, a recipient of four strokes, said: "There was some blood. I mean, let's not exaggerate, and let's not say a few drops or that the blood was gushing out. It was in between the two. It's like a bloody nose." A report by the Singapore Bar Association stated, "The blows are applied with the full force of the jailer's arm. When the rattan hits the bare buttocks, the skin disintegrates, leaving a white line and then a flow of blood." More profuse bleeding may, however, occur in the case of a larger number of strokes.
Men who have been caned before described the pain they experienced as "unbearable" and "excruciating". A recipient of 10 strokes even said, "The pain was beyond description. If there is a word stronger than excruciating, that should be the word to describe it".
After the caning, the inmate is released from the frame and receives medical treatment. Antiseptic lotion is applied. The wounds take between a week and a month to heal, and the marks are indelible. Where a large number of strokes is given, there is long-term scarring of the buttocks.
- American Michael P. Fay, whose conviction for vandalism and sentence of six strokes of the cane attracted worldwide publicity and sparked off a minor diplomatic crisis between Singapore and the United States. The Singaporean government reduced Fay's sentence from six to four strokes, and he was caned on 5 May 1994.
- Dickson Tan Yong Wen, because of an administrative error, received three more strokes than he was sentenced to. Tan was sentenced on 28 February 2007 to a total of nine months in jail and five strokes of the cane for two offences involving abetting an illegal moneylender to harass a debtor. He received eight strokes on 29 March 2007. Tan sought S$3 million from the government in compensation, but this was rejected. He did receive some compensation after negotiations, but the amount was kept secret.
- Corporal Dave Teo, a Full Time National Serviceman who made headlines in Singapore when, on 2 September 2007, he went absent without official leave (AWOL) from an army camp with a SAR 21 assault rifle. He was later arrested by police at Cathay Cineleisure Orchard with the rifle, eight 5.56mm rounds, and a knife in his possession. Teo was sentenced in July 2008 to nine years and two months' imprisonment and 18 strokes of the cane under multiple charges under the Arms Offences Act.
- Swiss national Oliver Fricker, sentenced on 25 June 2010 to 5 months' jail and three strokes of the cane for breaking into the SMRT Trains Changi Depot and vandalising an MRT train by spraypainting it.
- Two Taiwanese nationals, Su Wei Ying and Wu Wei Chun, were sentenced in September 2010 to 21 and 24 months' jail respectively, and both received 15 strokes of the cane for loansharking offences. Another Taiwanese national, Chen Ci Fan, was sentenced in January 2011 to 46 months' jail and 6 strokes of the cane, also in connection with loansharking. Director of the Criminal Investigation Department, Assistant Commissioner of Police Hoong Wee Teck said, "Foreigners and locals alike should be aware of the serious consequences of dabbling in such criminal activities and not be tempted by the lure of easy money. Regardless of their role or involvement, Police will not hesitate to take them to task and ensure that they are dealt with appropriately in accordance with our laws." Vanessa Shih, Taiwan's Representative to Singapore, said her staff had visited them in jail and informed their families. She urged Taiwanese to abide by Singapore law while in the city-state.
Differences between judicial caning in Singapore and in Malaysia
- In Singapore, only the High Court may order the caning of boys under 16. In Malaysia local courts may do so.
- In Singapore, in both legislation and press reports, the term "caning" is used to describe the punishment. In Malaysia the term "caning" is often used informally, and the phrases "strokes of the cane" and "strokes of the rotan" are used interchangeably, but officially the correct term is "whipping" in accordance with traditional British legislative terminology.
- In Singapore, no man above the age of 50 can be sentenced to caning. In Malaysia, however, this age limit has been abolished for rapists. In 2008, a 56-year-old man was sentenced to 57 years' jail and 12 strokes of the cane for rape.
- The Malaysian cane is marginally smaller than the Singaporean one but there are no discernible differences when first-person accounts from both countries are compared. In Malaysia a smaller cane is used for white-collar offenders but there are no reports of any such distinction being made in Singapore.
- In Singapore, rubber-lined padding is secured around the prisoner's lower back to protect the kidney and lower spine area from any strokes that land off-target. In Malaysia, a special "frame shield" that covers the offender's lower back and upper thighs while leaving the buttocks exposed is used.
- The A-shaped frames used in Singapore and Malaysia are different. In Singapore the offender bends over a padded crossbar on the frame with his feet together, while in Malaysia the inmate stands upright (albeit leaning slightly forward) at the frame with his legs apart.
- In Malaysia, men have sometimes been sentenced to more than 24 strokes, such as in a case in 2004 when a man was given 75 years' jail and 50 strokes of the cane for molesting his step-daughter. There are no reports of any man receiving more than 24 strokes in Singapore.
Men who are serving time in prison but have not been sentenced to caning earlier (in a court of law) are still liable to be caned in prison if they violate certain prison rules.
Under the Prisons Act, prison superintendents may impose corporal punishment not exceeding 12 strokes of the cane for aggravated prison offences. This punishment can be imposed after due inquiry at a "mini-court" inside the prison, during which the prisoner is given an opportunity to hear the charge and evidence against him and to present his defence. The Prisons Director must approve the punishment before it can be carried out. It is administered in the same manner as for judicial caning.
Inmates of Drug Rehabilitation Centres may be caned in the same way.
In 2008 the procedure was revised to introduce a review of each prison caning sentence by an independent external panel.
In the Singapore Armed Forces, a subordinate military court, or the officer in charge of the SAF Detention Barracks, may sentence a serviceman to a maximum of 24 strokes of the cane (with a maximum of 12 strokes per offence, 10 in the case of minors) for breaching certain military rules. In either case, the punishment must be confirmed by the Armed Forces Council before it can be administered. The minimum age for caning within the Armed Forces is 16 (now 16.5 de facto, since entry into the Armed Forces is restricted to those above that age).
Military corporal punishment is less severe than its civilian counterpart, designed not to cause undue bleeding or permanent scars. The punishment is administered on the buttocks, which are covered with a "protective guard". Caning is mainly used on recalcitrant teenage conscripts. The cane used is 6.35 millimetres (1/4 inch) in diameter (half the thickness of the prison/judicial cane) though it is about the same length. This is similar to the cane used in secondary schools. However, the offender is bound in a bent-over position to an A-frame just like the one used in judicial caning.
No statistics have been published as to how many military personnel are caned.
The Managers of these institutions are given the authority to impose caning on delinquents who have committed offences similar to those punishable by caning in ordinary secondary schools. A maximum of up to 10 strokes of the cane may be inflicted. The type of cane used must be approved by the Director before use, but no details are provided on the dimensions of the cane, and it is assumed that the cane is similar to the one used in secondary schools. The punishment is administered in private. Boys may be caned on the palm of the hand or on the buttocks over clothing. Girls may be caned on the palm of the hand only, and this is the only form of official corporal punishment in Singapore that may be applied to females.
Caning is also used as a form of corporal punishment in primary and, especially, secondary schools, and rarely in one or two post-secondary colleges, to maintain strict discipline in school. This is applicable only to male students; it is illegal to cane girls. The punishment is administered formally along traditional British lines, typically in the form of a predetermined number of vigorous cuts across the seat of the student's trousers as he bends over a desk or chair.
The Ministry of Education encourages schools to punish boys by caning for serious offences such as fighting, smoking, cheating, gangsterism, vandalism, defiance and truancy. Students may also be caned for repeated cases of more minor offences, such as being late repeatedly in a term. The punishment may be administered only by the Principal or Vice-Principal, or by a specially designated and trained Discipline Master. At most schools, caning comes after detention but before suspension in the hierarchy of penalties. Some schools use a demerit points system, whereby students receive a mandatory caning after accumulating a certain number of demerit points for a wide range of offences.
Under government regulations, the punishment should not exceed a maximum of six strokes, and can only be administered on the palm of the hand or on the buttocks over clothing, using a light rattan cane of about four feet long. The majority of the canings range from one to three very hard strokes, applied to the seat of the boy's trousers or shorts. Canings on the hand are rarely implemented, but one notable exception is Saint Andrew's Secondary School, where students may be caned on the palm for less serious offences.
Canings in schools may be classified as:
- Private caning (this is the most frequent kind): The student is caned in the school office, in the presence of the Principal/Vice-Principal and another member of the staff.
- Class caning: The student is caned in front of his class.
- Public caning: The student is caned in front of an assembly of the whole school population, to serve as a warning to potential offenders as well as to shame the student. This punishment is usually reserved for serious offences like fighting, smoking or vandalism.
- Others: There can be intermediate levels between a "class caning" and a "public caning". Some schools give these special names, such as "a cohort caning" (in front of all classes of the offending pupil's year) and "a consortium caning" (in front of all the lower secondary, or all the upper secondary, or certain streams of classes within certain year levels).
School caning is a solemn and formal ceremony. Before the caning, the Principal/Discipline Master usually explains the student's offence to the audience. Next, a protective item (a book or a file) is tucked into the boy's trouser waistband to protect the lower back from strokes that land off-target. He is directed to bend over a table or a chair, with his buttocks pushed slightly up and back. In this position, the boy is caned across the seat of his trousers or shorts according to the number of strokes prescribed. He normally experiences superficial bruises and weals for some days after the punishment.
Certain schools have special practices for caning, such as making the student change into physical education (PE) attire (because PE shorts are apparently thinner than the uniform trousers/shorts) for the punishment. Some schools require the student to read out a public apology before receiving his strokes.
Boys of any age from 6 to 19 may be caned, but the majority of canings are of secondary school students aged 14–16 inclusive. The Ministry of Education recommends that the student receive counselling before and/or after his caning.
Caning is used as a form of punishment in the home for children (both boys and girls) and is usually meted out by their parents, the most common offences being disobedience and lying. This form of punishment is legal in Singapore, but not particularly encouraged by the authorities, and parents are likely to be charged with child abuse if the child is injured.
The Singapore domestic cane (for children, not to be confused with judicial cane): A thin, rattan cane (~65 cm) with a plastic hook at the end, which comes in a variety of colours. They are available in grocery shops in neighbourhoods, and are used for the purpose of disciplining children and adolescents at home. Each cane costs about 50 Singapore cents, with best sales during times when students prepare for examinations.
Sometimes parents use other implements such as the handle of a feather-duster (made of rattan), rulers or even clothes hangers. The misbehaving child is usually caned on the thighs, calves, buttocks or palms. This type of caning usually leaves the child with cane marks that will fade within days.
According to a survey conducted by The Sunday Times in January 2009, out of the 100 parents surveyed, 57 said that caning was an acceptable form of punishment and they had used it on their children. 
Objections to corporal punishment
Amnesty International has condemned the practice of judicial caning in Singapore as "cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment". It is also regarded by some international observers as a violation of Article 1 in the United Nations Convention Against Torture. However, Singapore is not signatory to the Convention. Human Rights Watch also objects to the practice of caning.
In arts and media
- One More Chance (Chinese: 3个好人; pinyin: Sān Gè Hǎo Rén; Three Good Men), a 2005 Singaporean film by Jack Neo which portrays the lives of three convicts in prison. It also reflects the social stigma towards ex-offenders. A judicial caning scene is featured in the film in which one of the three convicts (played by Henry Thia) receives his caning sentence of six strokes. The scene is not featured explicitly and only the audio is heard in place of visual images.
- I Not Stupid Too (Chinese: 小孩不笨2; pinyin: Xiǎohái Bù Bèn Èr; The Children Are Not Stupid Part II), a 2006 Singaporean film by Jack Neo which reflects the lives of three ordinary Singaporean youngsters in school and their relationships with their families. One of the main characters, Tom Yeo (played by Shawn Lee), is publicly caned in school for hitting his teacher. The caning scene is graphically portrayed, with the young man bending over a desk on stage in the school hall to receive three very hard strokes across the seat of his trousers in front of the assembled student body. This faithfully reproduced the procedure used in real life at the school where the scene was filmed, Presbyterian High School. However, it should be noted that in fact, the offender rarely screams, and a protective item will be placed to protect his spine in case of strokes that land off-target. The public caning issue sparked off a debate in which it became apparent that some members of the Singaporean public did not realise that corporal punishment is widely used in secondary schools. Many seemed pleased to discover this, and letters in local newspapers suggested that the caning of errant schoolboys has wide support.
- The Homecoming (Chinese: 十三鞭; pinyin: Shí Sān Biān; Thirteen Strokes), a 2007 Singaporean television series produced by MediaCorp. In the drama, four men were convicted of arson in their youth and sentenced to imprisonment and three strokes of caning each. One of them (played by Rayson Tan) received one more stroke than either of his three friends, supposedly for being the mastermind. Several years later when he becomes a successful lawyer, he sets off to find out who betrayed him and takes his revenge. The caning scene is featured briefly in one of the episodes.
- The Caning of Michael Fay: The Inside Story by a Singaporean (1994), a documentary book by Gopal Baratham published in the wake of the controversial caning of Michael P. Fay. It concentrates on the personal aspects, the punishment and the sociology of caning in Singapore. The book includes some descriptions of caning and photographs of its results, as well as two personal interviews with men who had been caned before.
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- Singapore Criminal Procedure Code
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- Baratham, Gopal (1994). The Caning of Michael Fay. Singapore: KRP Publications. ISBN 981-00-5747-4
- Review of this book at World Corporal Punishment Research.
- Asad Latif (1994). The Flogging of Singapore: The Michael Fay Affair. Singapore: Times Books International. ISBN 981-204-530-9
- Review of this book at World Corporal Punishment Research.