Caning in Singapore
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Caning is a widely used form of legal corporal punishment in Singapore. It can be divided into several contexts: judicial, prison, reformatory, military, school, and domestic or private. These practices of caning are largely a legacy of, and are influenced by, British colonial rule in Singapore. Similar forms of corporal punishment are also used in some other former British colonies, including two of Singapore's neighbouring countries, Malaysia and Brunei.
Of these, judicial caning, for which Singapore is best known, is the most severe. It is reserved for male convicts under the age of 50, for a wide range of offences under the Criminal Procedure Code, and is also used as a disciplinary measure in prisons. Caning is also a legal form of punishment for delinquent servicemen in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and is conducted in the SAF Detention Barracks. Caning is also used as an official punishment in reform schools.
In a milder form, caning is used to punish male students in primary and secondary schools for serious misbehaviour. The government encourages this but does not allow caning for female students, who instead receive alternative forms of punishment such as detention.
A much smaller cane or other implement is also used by some parents to punish their children for misbehaving. This is allowed in Singapore but "not encouraged by the government". However, the government mentioned that it considers "the judicious application of corporal punishment in the best interest of the child."
- 1 Judicial caning
- 2 Prison caning
- 3 Military caning
- 4 Reformatory caning
- 5 School caning
- 6 Parental caning
- 7 Public opinion on caning in Singapore
- 8 In arts and media
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
Caning, as a form of legally sanctioned corporal punishment for convicted criminals, was first introduced to Malaya and Singapore by the British Empire in the 19th century. It was formally codified under the Straits Settlements Penal Code Ordinance IV in 1871.
In that era, offences punishable by caning were similar to those punishable by birching or flogging in England and Wales. They included robbery, aggravated forms of theft, burglary, assault with the intention of sexual abuse, a second or subsequent conviction of rape, a second or subsequent offence relating to prostitution, and living on or trading in prostitution.
Caning remained on the statute book after Malaya declared independence from Britain in 1957, and after Singapore ceased to be part of Malaysia in 1965. 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.
Sections 325–332 of the Criminal Procedure Code lay down the procedures governing caning. They include the following:
- A male offender between the ages of 18 and 50 who has been certified to be in a fit state of health by a medical officer is liable to be caned.
- The offender shall receive no more than 24 strokes of the cane on any one occasion, irrespective of the total number of offences committed. In other words, a man cannot be sentenced to more than 24 strokes of the cane in a single trial, but he may receive more than 24 strokes if the sentences are given out in separate trials.
- If the offender is under 18, he may receive up to 10 strokes of the cane, but a lighter cane will be used in this case. Boys under 16 may be sentenced to caning only by the High Court and not by the State Courts.
- An offender sentenced to death shall not be caned.
- The rattan cane used shall not exceed 1.27 cm in diameter.
- Caning must not be carried out in instalments. This is to ensure that prisoners sentenced to caning are done with it in a single session and do not have to go through the process repeatedly even if the full sentence might not have been administered for medical reasons.
Any male convict, whether sentenced to caning or not, may also be caned in prison if he commits certain offences while serving time in prison.
The following groups of people shall not be caned:
- Men above the age of 50
- Men sentenced to death whose sentences have not been commuted
It was not uncommon for the courts to extend, by up to 12 months, the prison terms of offenders originally sentenced to caning but later found to be medically unfit to undergo the punishment. However, on 9 May 2017, the High Court ruled that the courts should not automatically impose an additional jail term in lieu of caning unless there are reasons to do so.
Offences punishable by caning
Singaporean law allows caning to be ordered for over 35 offences, including hostage-taking/kidnapping, robbery, gang robbery with murder, rioting, causing grievous hurt, drug abuse, vandalism, extortion, sexual abuse, molest (often referred to as "outrage of modesty"), and unlawful possession of weapons. Caning is also a mandatory punishment for certain offences such as rape, drug trafficking, illegal moneylending, and for foreigners who overstay by more than 90 days – a measure designed to deter illegal immigrants.
While most of Singapore's laws on offences punishable by caning were inherited from the British legal system through the Indian Penal Code, the Vandalism Act was only introduced in 1966 after independence, in what has been argued to be an attempt by the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) to suppress the opposition's activities in the 1960s because opposition supporters vandalised public property with anti-PAP graffiti. Vandalism was originally prohibited by the Minor Offences Act, which made it punishable by a fine of up to S$50 or a week in jail, but did not permit caning. As of today, the Vandalism Act imposes a mandatory caning sentence of between three to eight strokes for a conviction of vandalism. Caning is not imposed on first-time offenders who use delible substances (e.g. pencil, crayon, chalk) to commit vandalism.
Beginning in the 1990s, the higher courts have been more inclined to impose caning sentences in cases where caning is a discretionary punishment. For example, in 1993 an 18-year-old molester was initially sentenced to six months' imprisonment but he appealed against his sentence. Chief Justice Yong Pung How not only dismissed his appeal, but also added three strokes of the cane to the sentence. This precedent set by the Chief Justice became a benchmark for sentences in molest cases, where the court is expected to sentence a molester to at least nine months' imprisonment and three strokes of the cane if the offence involves touching the victim's private parts.
In some cases, male employees can be sentenced to caning for offences committed by the company they work for. For instance, the Dangerous Fireworks Act states that caning is mandatory for a manager or owner of a company which imports, delivers or sells dangerous fireworks. Another example is the transporting of illegal immigrants; a manager of a company who authorises or participates in such activity can be sentenced to caning. In July 1998, police reported six cases of employers sentenced to imprisonment and caning for hiring illegal immigrants.
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 experienced an overall decline, falling to just 1,257 in 2016.
Caning takes place at several institutions around Singapore, most notably Changi Prison, and including the now defunct Queenstown Remand Centre, where Michael Fay was caned in 1994. Canings are also administered in 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|
|2014||1,430||86%||January to September only|
|2015||1,382||81.7%||January to October only|
|2016||1,257||78.5%||January to October only|
Most caning sentences are far below the legal limit of 24 strokes. Although sentences of between three and six strokes are much more common, they usually receive less or no coverage by the media. Normally, only the more serious cases involving heavier sentences will have a greater tendency to be reported in the press.
The prison officers who administer caning are carefully selected and specially trained for the job. They are generally physically fit and robustly built. Some hold "quite high" grades in martial arts even though proficiency in martial arts is not a requirement for the job. They are trained to use their entire body weight as the power behind every stroke instead of using only the strength from their arms, as well as to induce as much pain as possible. They can swing the cane at a speed of up to 160 km/h and produce a force upon impact of at least 90 kg.
A rattan cane no more than 1.27 centimetres (0.5 in) in diameter and about 1.2 metres (3.9 ft) in length is used for judicial and prison canings. It is about twice as thick as the canes used in the school and military contexts. The cane is soaked in water overnight to make it supple and prevent it from splitting and embedding splinters in the wounds. The Prisons Department denies that the cane is soaked in brine, but has said that it is treated with antiseptic before use to prevent infection. A lighter cane is used for juvenile offenders.
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 the view of the public and other inmates. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that the offender, while waiting in a queue for his turn to be caned, has the chance to observe those before him getting caned. A medical officer and the Superintendent of Prisons are required to be present at every caning session.
The offender is not told in advance when he will be caned; he is notified only on the day his sentence is to be carried out. Offenders often undergo a lot of psychological distress as a result of being put into such uncertainty. On the day itself, the medical officer examines him by measuring his blood pressure and other physical conditions to check whether he is medically fit for the caning. If he is certified fit, he proceeds to receive his punishment; if he is certified unfit, he is sent back to the court for the sentence to be remitted or converted to additional time in prison. A prison officer confirms with him the number of strokes he has been sentenced to.
In practice, the offender is required to strip completely naked for the caning. Once he has removed his clothes, he is restrained in a large wooden trestle based on the British dual-purpose prison flogging frame. He stands barefooted on the trestle base and bends over a padded horizontal crossbar on one side of the trestle, with the crossbar adjusted to around his waist level. His feet are tied to a lower crossbar on the same side by restraining ankle cuffs made of leather, while his hands are secured to another horizontal crossbar on the other side by wrist cuffs of similar design; his hands can hold on to the crossbar. After he is secured to the trestle in a bent-over position at an angle of close to 90° at the hip, protective padding is tied around his lower back to protect the vulnerable kidney and lower spine area from any strokes that might land off-target. The punishment is administered on his bare buttocks to minimise the risk of any injury to bones and organs. He is not gagged.
The caning officer carefully positions himself beside the trestle and takes aim with the cane. The Director of Prisons explained in a 1974 press conference, "Correct positioning is critically important. If he is too near the prisoner, the tip of the cane will fall beyond the buttocks and the force of the stroke will cause the unsupported tip to dip and bend the cane and thus reduce the effect of the stroke. If he is too far, the stroke will only cover part of the buttocks." Strokes are delivered at intervals of about 30 seconds. The caning officer is required to exert as much strength as he can muster for each stroke. The offender receives all the strokes in a single caning session – not in instalments. According to anecdotal evidence, if the sentence involves a large number of strokes (say, six or more), two or more officers will take turns to cane the offender to ensure that the later strokes are equally as forceful as the earlier ones.
During the caning, if the medical officer certifies that the offender is not in a fit state of health to undergo the rest of the punishment, the caning must be stopped. The offender will then be sent back to the court for the remaining number of strokes to be remitted or converted to a prison term of no more than 12 months, in addition to the original prison term he was sentenced to.
Two lashers took turns to wield the bamboo cane. Blood spurted, bits of flesh flew and the prisoner screamed in pain. ... The canings drew hundreds of people, including a lot of women, and everybody seemed to love it. Each time the guy got wacked [sic] the crowd would roar – like at a hockey game. They really enjoyed what they saw. (New York Newsday, 20 April 1994)
During a caning, a martial arts champion repeatedly rips the backs [sic] tender flesh employing a method designed to produce maximum injury with minimum effort. And, in keeping with Singapore's respect for western-style services, a medical doctor is on hand during the torture feat – not to treat the guy being caned but to make sure he does not pass out and miss a single excruciating stroke. (Andrea Peyser, The New York Post, 6 April 1994)
Nevertheless, there may be significant physical damage, depending on the number of strokes inflicted. Michael Fay said, "The skin did rip open, 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." Usually, the buttocks will be covered with blood after three strokes. More profuse bleeding may, however, occur in the case of a larger number of strokes.
Men who have been caned before have variously described the pain they experienced as "unbearable", "excruciating", "equivalent to getting hit by a lorry", etc. A recipient of 10 strokes said, "The pain was beyond description. If there is a word stronger than excruciating, that should be the word to describe it".
Most offenders struggle violently after each of the first three strokes and then their struggles lessen as they become weaker. By the time the caning is over, those who receive more than three strokes will be in a state of shock. During the caning, some offenders will pretend to faint but they cannot fool the medical officer, who decides whether the punishment continues or stops. Offenders undergo a lot of psychological distress before and during the caning: They are afraid of not only the physical pain, but are also worried about whether they can prevent themselves from crying out because crying means that they would lose face.
After the caning, the offender is released from the trestle and receives medical treatment. Antiseptic lotion (gentian violet) is applied. The wounds usually take between a week and a month to heal, depending on the number of strokes received. During this time, offenders cannot sit down or lie down on their backs, and experience difficulties when using the toilet. Permanent scars remain even after the wounds have healed.
- Selwyn Hirini Kahukura, Hugh Gordon Clark and Tony Alfred Gordon, three New Zealand soldiers sentenced in 1981 to three years' imprisonment and three strokes of the cane each for selling cannabis in their camp at Dieppe Barracks, Sembawang. They appealed to Singapore's President Devan Nair for clemency in 1982 but the appeals were rejected.
- Michael Fay, an American teenager convicted of vandalism in March 1994 and sentenced to four months' imprisonment, a S$3,500 fine, and six strokes of the cane. This incident attracted worldwide publicity and sparked a minor diplomatic crisis between Singapore and the United States. Under pressure from U.S. President Bill Clinton, Singapore's President Ong Teng Cheong reduced Fay's sentence from six to four strokes. Fay was caned on 5 May 1994 in Queenstown Remand Prison.
- Andy Shiu Chi Ho, a Hong Kong teenager convicted of vandalism along with Michael Fay in March 1994. He was originally sentenced to eight months' imprisonment and 12 strokes of the cane, but his sentence was eventually reduced to six months' imprisonment and six strokes. He received the caning on 23 June 1994.
- David William Peden, a New Zealand former soldier sentenced in November 1997 to one year's imprisonment and three strokes of the cane for overstaying and drug consumption. He was caned on 12 December that year and appeared to be "fine and in good spirits" when a New Zealand consular officer visited him a day after.
- Oliver Fricker, a Swiss national who was sentenced on 25 June 2010 to five months' imprisonment 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' imprisonment, respectively, and both received 15 strokes of the cane each for loansharking offences. Another Taiwanese national, Chen Ci Fan, was sentenced in January 2011 to 46 months' imprisonment and six strokes of the cane, also in connection with loansharking.
- Samiyappan Sellathurai, an Indian national sentenced to 25 months' imprisonment and three strokes of the cane in November 2014 for instigating and participating in the 2013 Little India riot. Over 20 men of South Asian origin were convicted for their respective roles in the riot. Among them, two others also received caning sentences: Arumugam Karthik was sentenced to 33 months' imprisonment and three strokes of the cane for flipping over three police cars and setting another on fire; Ramalingam Sakthivel was sentenced to 30 months' imprisonment and three strokes of the cane for flipping over a police car, hitting an ambulance with a pole, and hurling projectiles at police.
- Two Germans, Andreas Von Knorre and Elton Hinz, were each sentenced on 5 March 2015 to nine months' imprisonment and three strokes of the cane for breaking into a train depot in November 2014 and vandalising a train cabin by spraypainting it.
- Yong Vui Kong, a Malaysian who was caught trafficking heroin in 2007. He was spared the death penalty and re-sentenced to life imprisonment and 15 strokes of the cane in 2013 after changes were made to Singapore's laws on drug trafficking. (See Yong Vui Kong v Public Prosecutor for the background of the case). Yong, acting through his lawyer M Ravi, made an appeal to the Court of Appeal against his caning sentence. Ravi argued that the corporal punishment violated the Constitution and that it was racist and discriminatory. In 2015, three judges, including Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, ruled that caning was not unconstitutional and dismissed Yong's appeal.
- Bander Yahya A. Alzahrani, a Saudi Arabian diplomat convicted of molesting a hotel intern in 2016. On 3 February 2017, he was sentenced to 26 months and one week in jail and four strokes of the cane. He appealed against his sentence and was released on bail of S$20,000. On 21 July 2017, the High Court dismissed his appeal, Judge of Appeal Steven Chong remarking that his sentence was "actually lenient" especially given the "dishonest" manner in which he ran his defence.
- Khong Tam Thanh, Vu Thai Son and Michael Le, three Britons of Vietnamese descent accused of raping a Malaysian woman in a hotel in Singapore. They pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of aggravated molestation, and were sentenced on 15 August 2017 as follows: Thanh received six years' jail and eight strokes of the cane; Son received 6½ years' jail and eight strokes of the cane; Le received 5½ years' jail and five strokes of the cane.
- Wade James Burridge, an Australian managing director of a horse-racing company convicted of molesting two women in 2015. He was sentenced on 6 December 2017 to 11 months' imprisonment and three strokes of the cane. He has appealed against his sentence and is currently out on bail of S$40,000.
- Qwek Kee Chong, a Singaporean convicted of four counts of armed robbery on 31 November 1987 and sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment and 48 strokes of the cane in total (12 strokes for each count). He received all 48 strokes on 8 April 1988 and was hospitalised in the Changi Prison hospital. On 1 March 1991, he sued the government for damages and costs for "grievous injuries to (his) buttocks". This case was believed to be the first time a prisoner was caned beyond the legal limit of 24 strokes. As it was clearly a mistake for him to receive more than 24 strokes in a single session, the government gave him an ex gratia compensation payment in settlement. Other members of Qwek's criminal gang made similar claims in 2007, saying that they also received more than 24 strokes each and did not know at the time that it was against the law.
- Dickson Tan Yong Wen, a Singaporean who received three more strokes than he was sentenced to because of an administrative error. He was sentenced on 28 February 2007 to nine months in jail and five strokes of the cane for two offences involving abetting an illegal moneylender to harass a debtor. However, he received eight strokes on 29 March 2007. Tan sought S$3 million from the government in compensation but was rejected. He did receive some compensation after negotiations, but the amount was kept secret. After the caning error incident, Tan ran into trouble with the law again on two occasions. In both cases, he was jailed but not sentenced to caning.
- Dave Teo, a Singaporean Full Time National Serviceman who made headlines in Singapore when he went absent without official leave (AWOL) on 2 September 2007 from an army camp with a SAR 21 assault rifle. He was arrested by the 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.
- Mohamad Khalid Mohamad Yusop, who vandalised The Cenotaph, was sentenced to three months' imprisonment and three strokes of the cane in August 2013.
- Alvin Phoon Hui Zhi, a former Youth Olympic Games cyclist sentenced to five years' imprisonment and five strokes of the cane in 2015 for drug trafficking and consumption.
- Goh Eng Kiat, a company director who became the first person to be sentenced to caning for offences committed under Singapore's Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA). He was sentenced on 3 November 2017 to a total of 50 months' imprisonment and five strokes of the cane for fraudulently obtaining work passes for 30 foreign workers for a company that did not require their employment.
Comparison of judicial caning in Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore
Judicial caning is also used as a form of legal punishment for criminal offences in two of Singapore's neighbouring countries, Brunei and Malaysia. There are some differences across the three countries.
|Juveniles||Local courts may order the caning of boys below the age of 16.||Local courts may order the caning of boys below the age of 16.||Only the High Court may order the caning of boys below the age of 16.|
|Age limit||Men above the age of 50 cannot be sentenced to caning.||Men above the age of 50 cannot be sentenced to caning. However, the law was amended in 2006 such that men convicted of sex offences may still be sentenced to caning even if they are above the age of 50. In 2008, a 56-year-old man was sentenced to 57 years jail and 12 strokes of the cane for rape.||Men above the age of 50 cannot be sentenced to caning.|
|Maximum no. of strokes per trial||24 strokes for adults; 18 strokes for juveniles||24 strokes for adults; 10 strokes for juveniles||24 strokes for adults; 10 strokes for juveniles|
|Terminology||The official term used to describe the punishment is "whipping" in accordance with traditional British legislative terminology.||The term "caning" is often used informally, while the phrases "strokes of the cane" and "strokes of the rotan" are used interchangeably. The official term is "whipping" in accordance with traditional British legislative terminology.||In both legislation and press reports, the term "caning" is used to describe the punishment.|
|Dimensions of the cane||About 1.2 m (3.9 ft) long and no more than 1.27 cm (0.5 in) in diameter||About 1.09 m (3.6 ft) long and no more than 1.25 cm (0.49 in) in diameter||About 1.2 m (3.9 ft) long and no more than 1.27 cm (0.5 in) in diameter|
|Type of cane||The same type of rattan cane is used on all offenders regardless of the offence committed.||Two types of rattan canes are used: The smaller one is for white-collar offenders while the larger one is for other offenders.||The same type of rattan cane is used on all offenders regardless of the offence committed.|
|Modus operandi||The offender is tied to a wooden frame in a bent-over position with his feet together.||The offender stands upright at the A-shaped frame with his feet apart and hands tied above his head. He has a special protective "shield" tied around his lower body to cover the lower back and upper thighs while leaving the buttocks exposed.||The offender is tied to the trestle in a bent-over position with his feet together. He has protective padding secured around his lower back to protect the kidney and lower spine area from strokes that land off-target.|
Male convicts who are not sentenced to caning by the courts are still liable to be caned in prison if they commit offences while serving time in prison. The modus operandi is the same as that of judicial caning.
A Superintendent of Prisons may impose corporal punishment not exceeding 12 strokes of the cane for aggravated prison offences. Such offences include engaging in gang activities, mutiny, attempting to escape, destruction of prison property, and assaulting an officer or a fellow prisoner. The punishment is carried out 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 present his defence. The Prisons Director must approve the punishment before it can be carried out. Visiting justices may also order an inmate to be punished by up to 24 strokes of the cane. However, the Prisons Department has confirmed that such cases are rare.
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 (SAF), 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 (10 strokes if the serviceman is below 16) for committing certain military offences or for committing aggravated offences while being detained in the Detention Barracks. In all cases, the caning sentence must be approved by the Armed Forces Council before it can be administered. The minimum age for a serviceman to be sentenced to caning is 16 (now 16½ de facto, since entry into the SAF is restricted to those above that age). This form of caning is mainly used on recalcitrant teenage conscripts serving full-time National Service in the SAF.
Military caning is less severe than its civilian counterpart, and is designed not to cause undue bleeding and leave permanent scars. The offender must be certified by a medical officer to be in a fit condition of health to undergo the punishment and shall wear "protective clothing" as prescribed. The punishment is administered on the buttocks, which are covered by a "protective guard" to prevent cuts. The cane used is no more than 6.35 mm in diameter (about half the thickness of the prison/judicial cane). During the punishment, the offender is secured in a bent-over position to a trestle similar to the one used for judicial/prison canings.
Caning is used as a form of legal corporal punishment in reformatories, such as the Singapore Boys' Home and Singapore Girls' Home, to which the courts may send juvenile delinquents up to the age of 16 for up to three years, which means they may be aged 18 when they leave.
The superintendents of reformatoriies are allowed to impose corporal punishment on both male and female residents for serious misconduct. They are required to maintain a record of the details and evidence of the offender's misconduct and their reasons for deciding to cane him/her.
The punishment is administered in private by the superintendent or an authorised officer of the same sex as the offender, using a cane of a type approved by the Director of Social Welfare. A maximum of eight strokes may be inflicted. For a male offender, the strokes may be inflicted on either the palm of the hand or the buttocks over ordinary cloth shorts. For a female offender, the strokes may be inflicted on the palm of the hand only.
Caning is also used as a form of corporal punishment and disciplinary measure in primary and secondary schools. This is only applicable to male students; it is illegal to inflict corporal punishment on female students. The punishment may be administered only by the Principal, Vice-Principal, Discipline Master or any legally authorised teacher of the school's disciplinary committee. The student's parents or guardians must be informed immediately of all the details of the offence and punishment. Parental or guardian consent might be sought in some instances before the caning is carried out.
The Ministry of Education encourages schools to punish boys by caning for committing serious offences such as fighting, smoking, cheating, gangsterism, vandalism, defiance, truancy, and possession of pornographic materials. Students may also be caned for repeated cases of minor offences, such as being late repeatedly in a term. 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 mandatory caning after accumulating a certain number of demerit points for a wide range of offences. The Ministry recommends that the student receives counselling before and/or after the punishment.
Under the Ministry's regulations, a maximum of six strokes may be inflicted using a light rattan cane. The student may be caned on only the buttocks over clothing or the palm of the hand. Most school canings generally range from one to three strokes administered with full force. Boys of any age from six to 19 may be caned, but the majority of canings are of secondary school students aged 14–16 inclusive.
School caning is a solemn and formal ceremony, and is typically administered in a manner similar to the canings administered in English schools before school corporal punishment was banned in England in 1998. A protective item (e.g. book, file, rolled-up newspaper) might be tucked into the student's trouser waistband to protect the lower back from strokes that land off-target. The student then places his hands on a desk or chair, bends over or leans forward, and receives the caning on the seat of his uniform trousers or shorts. Based on first-hand accounts, the student typically feels moderate to acute pain for the first few minutes, depending on the number of strokes. This soon leads to a stinging sensation and general soreness around the points of impact, usually lasting for some hours; sitting down is likely to be uncomfortable. Superficial bruises and weals may appear on the buttocks and last for a few days after the punishment. Canings on the hand are rarely implemented, with one notable exception being Saint Andrew's Secondary School, where students may be caned on the hand for committing less serious offences while caning on the buttocks is reserved for more serious offences.
Canings in school may be sorted into these categories:
- Private caning: The most common form. The student is caned in the school office in the presence of the Principal, Vice-Principal and another witness. His parents or guardians may be invited to the school to witness the punishment being meted out.
- 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 for potential offenders and to embarrass the offending student. This form of punishment is usually reserved for very serious offences and repeated offences.
- Others: There may be intermediate levels between a "class caning" and a "public caning". Some schools give these special names, such as "cohort caning" (in front of all classes in the same year as the student).
Certain schools adopt special practices. For example, following English traditions, some schools (mainly boys' schools) require the student to change into physical education (PE) attire for the punishment because PE shorts are apparently thinner than normal uniform trousers/shorts, even though the main purpose is probably to enhance the formality of the occasion. In some schools, if the caning is conducted in public, the student is required to make a public apology before or after receiving his punishment.
Routine school canings are normally not publicised, so only rare and special cases are reported in the media.
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 most commonly used implement is a thin rattan cane with a plastic cover shaped like a hook serving as a handle on one end. They are available in grocery shops in neighbourhoods and are normally used for 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 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.
Public opinion on caning in Singapore
- Judicial caning
Judicial caning is meant to serve as a humiliating experience for offenders and as a strong deterrent to crime. In 1966, when Singapore's founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew introduced caning as a mandatory punishment for vandalism, he said in Parliament, "[...] if (the offender) knows he is going to get three of the best, I think he will lose a great deal of enthusiasm, because there is little glory attached to the rather humiliating experience of having to be caned."
In a 2004 interview with China Central Television, Lee Kuan Yew explained why caning should continue in Singapore with reference to the 1994 Michael Fay incident: "Every country has its own problems to face, we know, certain things. You put a person in a prison, it makes no difference. He will not change. Because you observe certain rules, there's enough food, enough exercise, fresh air, sunshine ... But if you cane him, and he knows he will be given six of the best on his buttocks, and it will hurt for one week that he can't sit down comfortably, he will think again."
While the extensive use of corporal punishment is a policy associated with Lee Kuan Yew and the ruling People's Action Party (PAP), it is not a policy on which the PAP has a monopoly. Politicians from the opposition parties have voiced support for corporal punishment. Edmund Ng Say Eng, a candidate for the Singapore Democratic Alliance in the 2006 general election, said, "For criminals, caning serves as a deterrent [...] I would not change a winning formula." Sylvia Lim, a Member of Parliament from the Workers' Party, also said in 2007: "What are the purposes of jail, fine and caning? Caning is controversial internationally, but if one must justify why we cane offenders, it is just deserts for pain which the offender has caused to the victim, for example, hurt, injury or the threat of violence. Caning is a severe punishment, and it is always combined with jail as the offences tend to be serious and to make it easier, administratively, to arrange for the caning to take place."
The severity and humiliation of the punishment are widely publicised in various ways, mainly through the press but also through other means such as education. For example, juvenile delinquents get to watch a real-life demonstration of caning on a dummy during compulsory prison visits.
Singapore has come under strong international criticism for its practice of judicial caning, especially after the 1994 Michael Fay incident. Amnesty International condemned the practice of judicial caning in Singapore as a "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 similarly referred to the practice of caning as "an inherently cruel punishment".
The Singaporean government has defended its stance on judicial caning and said that the punishment does not amount to torture and is conducted under strict standards and medical supervision. Although the extensive use of judicial caning is a policy commonly associated with the ruling People's Action Party (PAP), the opposition parties do not oppose it because they agree on its effectiveness as a deterrent to crime. While most Singaporean citizens either support or are indifferent towards the practice of judicial caning, there is a minority – including dissident Gopalan Nair, lawyer M Ravi and businessman Ho Kwon Ping – who are completely or partially opposed to it.
A recipient of nine strokes thinks that even though it may be a nightmare the first time, an offender who has been caned before will have experienced the extent of fear of criminal punishment and so may not find it as much of a disincentive to commit repeat offences. He said, "After he knows what it's like, he will have nothing left to fear. He will know what to expect no matter how many strokes he gets – it's more of the same. No alcohol and women – apart from those two things, prison is really not that bad."
- School caning
Critics argue that since Singapore is a member of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is therefore obliged to "take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse". However, the Singaporean government stated that it considers "the judicious application of corporal punishment in the best interest of the child."
In arts and media
- Behind Bars, a 1991 Singaporean television series produced by the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation in collaboration with the Singapore Prison Service. The drama portrays the lives of prison officers and convicts in prison. In two episodes, two convicts are separately punished by caning for breaking prison rules.
- Prison Me? No Way!, a 15-minute video commissioned by the National Crime Prevention Council to deter teenagers from crime. The video, filmed in Changi Prison and Changi Reformative Training Centre at a cost of S$43,000, shows life in prison from the perspectives of two young offenders and includes a reenactment of a judicial caning. It was distributed to over 140 schools in October 1998.
- Love is Beautiful, a 2003 Singaporean television series produced by MediaCorp Channel 8. In the drama, Huang Leshan (played by Andrew Seow) is sentenced to 18 years' imprisonment and 12 strokes of the cane for raping Song Hui (played by May Phua). The caning scene is briefly shown in one of the episodes when Leshan recalls his ordeal.
- One More Chance, 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. In one scene, one of the three convicts (played by Henry Thia) receives his caning sentence of six strokes.
- I Not Stupid Too, 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 Tom bending over a desk on the stage in the school hall to receive three hard strokes on 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. The public caning issue sparked off a debate in which it was revealed that some Singaporeans were not aware that corporal punishment is common in secondary schools.
- The Homecoming, 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 flashbacks.
- Don't Stop Believin', a 2012 Singaporean television series produced by MediaCorp. In the drama, a secondary school student, Zhong Junliang (played by Xu Bin), is wrongly accused of molesting a female student. He is caned in front of the school assembly by the Discipline Master (played by Brandon Wong), who turns out to be his father.
- Ilo Ilo, a 2013 Singaporean family film directed by Anthony Chen. In one scene, the main character Jiale (played by Koh Jia Ler) receives a public caning in school for fighting with his classmate.
- Take 2, a 2017 Singaporean comedy film about the lives of four ex-convicts, directed by Ivan Ho and produced by Jack Neo. In the prologue, the four (played by Ryan Lian, Wang Lei, Gadrick Chin and Maxi Lim) receive their caning sentences.
- Rotan, a 2017 Singaporean short film shown at the Singapore International Film Festival 2017 and directed by Hamzah Fansuri. The film is about a father, who is also the discipline master at his son's school, having to uphold his own principles and punish his rebellious son for breaking the school rules.
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