Is Joining a Gang Illegal in Singapore?: Being Recruited and Penalties

Last updated on April 22, 2019

gang members holding a bat.

If you think being a gang member is “cool”, think again.

Joining and being part of a gang can lead to serious repercussions, such as flouting the law and inflicting emotional and physical damage on yourself and/or others.

What are Gangs?

Gangs are groups of people who engage in illegal and possibly violent activities, and as a result, affect the law and order in Singapore.

In Singapore, there are 2 main types of gangs:

1. Traditional gangs

These gangs mainly engage in organised crime activity. For example, drug-dealing. Their gang structures and members are more organised than that of street gangs.

2. Street gangs

At present, street gangs are more problematic in Singapore. These gangs are less structured and have more fluid membership.

They are mostly made up of youths who seek to fulfil their social, emotional and psychological needs by joining gangs. For example, companionship or a sense of identity.

Some illegal activities street gangs may engage in include (elaborated below):

  • Recruiting new members to join the gang
  • Joining gang members to take part in unlawful assembly with the common objective or intention to commit an offence. For example, attending settlement talks, attending a wake of a gang member or his relative as directed by gangs or, rioting. Rioting occurs when members of an assembly uses any force or violence in achieving a common objective, and will attract an imprisonment term of up to 7 years and caning.

Do Gangs Still Exist in Singapore?

Unlike what you may think, gangs still exist today. While the authorities have been clamping down on gangs all these years, they have not been wiped out.

In June 2018, a police officer of 18 years was charged and convicted after he was found to be a senior member of a secret society and the headman of a motorcycle gang.

While his involvement in these unlawful societies went undetected for a considerably long period of time, his “identities” were eventually exposed when a group of men chanting gang slogans at a wedding led the police to discover that he was in their WhatsApp chat group.

This resulted in his arrest and sentence of 1 year imprisonment for being a member of unlawful societies (elaborated below).

Are Gangs, and Joining Gangs, Illegal in Singapore?

The Societies Act defines a society as any club, company, partnership or association of 10 or more persons, whatever its nature or object.

Any society that is not a registered society with the Registry of Societies is an unlawful society that will be liable to be dealt with. Offenders can face up to a $5,000 fine and/or be imprisoned for up to 3 years.

Therefore, gangs are illegal and it is illegal to join a gang in Singapore.

Going by the above definition, a gang of less than 10 members may not be deemed as an unlawful society.

Nonetheless, smaller assemblies may attract other offences, such as unlawful assembly under the Penal Code, which catches an assembly of 5 or more persons with the common objective or intention to, for instance, commit any offence.

A member who joins an assembly of 5 or more persons, knowing that they are formed to commit any offence, may be punished with an imprisonment term of up to 2 years and/or a fine.

If such a member is armed with any deadly weapon, he can expect a harsher punishment of up to 5 years imprisonment, fine and/or caning.

Furthermore, by allowing an unlawful assembly, such as by letting members have meetings in your premises, you can be fined up to $5,000 and/or be imprisoned for up to 3 years.

Gang members, including young offenders below age 21, may also end up being detained in prison indefinitely, should this be deemed necessary for reasons of public safety, peace and good order.

Recruiting New Blood

Unfortunately, some of these street gangs have started to brazenly recruit members via social media.

By piquing the curiosity of youths through uploaded photographs and directly sending private messages to them, some youths have been lured to join a gang. Some gang members may even reach out to youths during football games.

However, such conducts may amount to inciting, inducing or inviting persons to become members, and thus attract heavy penalties. A person who attempts to recruit others to join gangs may be fined up to $5,000 and/or be imprisoned for up to 3 years.

What should I do if I’m being recruited to join a gang?

If you are one of the youths being approached, be firm and decline their attempts to rope you in.

Even if you are attracted by how these people seem to be able to offer companionship, remember that there are other avenues for you to fulfil your social, emotional and psychological needs, such as by seeking help from your family members or teachers.

When am I Considered a Gang Member?

It is a common misperception that “A person is only considered a gang member if he paid entrance fees or subscription fees”.

However, as long as you know that you are hanging out with people who are gang members, and joining them in their activities, such as fighting, or attending a wake of a gang member or his relative (as mentioned above), you can be deemed to be a gang member.

Penalties for Young Offenders Involved in Gangs

As can be observed, the penalties for the various offences can be hefty.

In a bid to avoid criminalising young offenders’ conduct under appropriate circumstances, the government has put in place the Streetwise Programme (SWP) and the Enhanced Streetwise Programme (ESWP), targeted at youths aged between 13 to 19.

Streetwise Programme (SWP)

The SWP is a 6-month “voluntary, preventive and rehabilitative” programme for youths who associate with gangs. Depending on the risks and needs of youths, the SWP maybe extended up to another 6 months.

Through a series of individual, group-based and family sessions conducted by a caseworker, youths are taught to:

  • Better understand the social and legal consequences of being a gang member
  • Detach themselves from gangs and form healthier relationships
  • Solve conflicts and manage emotions positively
  • Be meaningfully involved in school or work

Enhanced Streetwise Programme (ESWP)

The ESWP is targeted at youth offenders with minor involvement in gang-related offences.

Under this programme, youths will have to:

  • Physically report to the Police;
  • Be monitored with regard to their attendance for school or work; and
  • Be restricted on daily activities. For example, on places they can visit and people they can associate with.

One of the key highlights of this programme is that a youth offender may no longer be subject to court prosecution should he complete the 6-month programme smoothly.

How Can I Leave a Gang?

Even after you make a decision to leave a gang, understandably, you may find yourself intimidated at the thought of informing the other gang members and/or leader.

One method to help yourself dissociate from the gang is to contact the Secret Societies Branch under the Singapore Police Force at their hotline 6435 0000. Otherwise, you may also want to consider referring yourself to SWP.

It is never too late to seek help or distance yourself from gangs. Knowing the wide-ranging offences and stiff penalties gang members may face, being a gang member may just not be as “cool” as it seems.

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