Caning in Singapore: Judicial, School & Parental Corporal Punishment

Last updated on April 22, 2019

student receiving caning corporal punishment.

Corporal punishment refers generally to inflicting deliberate physical pain as punishment, through caning. Even though it is considered outdated by many other nations, it is still fairly common in Singapore.

Judicial Caning in Singapore

Judicial caning is a form of corporal punishment in Singapore meted out to offenders.

Judicial caning is applicable to more than 30 offences, but it is compulsory for a dozen of crimes such as attempted murder, rape, armed robbery, drug trafficking and vandalism.

Who can be caned?

Caning is only carried out on males aged 7 and up to 50 years old, and who are medically fit for caning.

Who is exempted from judicial caning?

Women and all offenders who are sentenced to death are exempted from judicial caning. Instead, they may be given an imprisonment of up to 12 months in lieu of caning.

How is judicial caning carried out?

Where one is sentenced to caning in addition to imprisonment, caning must not be inflicted until after the period within which the sentence can be appealed. If an appeal is made, caning cannot be inflicted until after the end of the appeal.

Where a person is sentenced to caning only, or where the caning cannot be carried out before the person’s release from jail, the Public Prosecutor must apply to the court for the authorisation of detention of the person, for a period necessary for carrying out the sentence of caning.

The time and place of the caning is to be directed by the court. However, the offender will not be given any advance notice of when he will be caned.

On the day of the caning, a cane of up to 1.27 cm in diameter will be used. (For juveniles – children aged 7 to below 16 – a light rattan will be used instead.) The caning will be administered on the offender’s buttocks.

A medical officer has to be present during the caning to certify that the offender is in a fit state of health to be caned. Caning must be stopped mid-execution if the medical officer certifies that the offender is not in a fit state of health to undergo the rest of the sentence.

It is not possible for caning to be executed in instalments.

Thus, if a caning is stopped mid-session, the offender may be given up to 12 months of imprisonment to compensate for the unfinished strokes. This also applies where the offender is deemed medically unfit to be caned in the first place.

How many strokes of cane are allowed to be imposed on offenders?

There is a legal limit of 24 strokes for adults and 10 for juveniles— at the same sitting.

Hence, where an offender is convicted of more than one offence, resulting in the number of strokes to be more than 24, he would be imprisoned for up to 12 months in lieu of the strokes exceeding 24.

However, if an offender is convicted in a later sitting for an offence that is also punishable by caning, the same punishment can be meted out again, resulting in the offender receiving more than 24 strokes of the cane in total.

Caning in Singapore Schools

Caning, as a form of corporal punishment in Singapore schools, is allowed under the Education (Schools) Regulation. Such punishment is always complemented with counselling and follow-up guidance on the student who had been caned.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) gives schools the full legal authority to exercise responsibility for the discipline of their students and they are given a set of guidelines (see below) by MOE when it comes to caning.

Guidelines and school rules for corporal punishment

Generally, MOE identifies a list of minor and major offences, and gives guidelines on the methods to dealing with these offences, including repeated offences.

Firmness and fairness is emphasised in these guidelines, taking into consideration the best approach for the students’ well-being and learning.

The guidelines given to schools applies to full-time primary and full-time secondary schools, including junior colleges and centralised institutes providing pre-university education.

However, while there are guidelines, schools are free to determine their own rules based on their “context and needs” within the given framework.

These rules are communicated to students and parents during enrolment, via the student handbook, on the school’s website, in parent-teacher meetings and letters to parents.

Therefore, it is up to the senior management of the school to decide whether to adopt corporal punishment or (public) caning in their school.

How is caning carried out in schools?

Corporal punishment can only be inflicted by the principal or under his express authority.

Only male pupils can be caned. A range of 1 to 3 strokes of a light cane may be given on the palms or buttocks over clothing.

Caning is usually done as a last resort, and for serious offences. In a 2016 example, about 30 students from an all-boys school were caned — several publicly, in front of their respective levels — for keeping and sharing up-skirt photos and videos of 6 teachers.

Do parents have a say in a school’s corporal punishment?

Unlike in the case of private tutors, parents are not direct employers and are not in the position to set guidelines for schools.

Thus, it is unlikely that parents are able to make a complaint or take action against the school for imposing caning on their child, unless the caning had not been done according to the MOE guidelines.

For example, if it was imposed on a child without permission from the principal, or was caned too harshly.

Should parents deem any punishment unwarranted or excessive, they may communicate their thoughts to the school principal as well as teachers (E.g. via letters or in parent-teacher meetings).

Parental Corporal Punishment

Singapore is careful to toe the line between allowing punishment and condoning abuse by taking a case-by-case approach in determining the boundaries of acceptable punishment.

It is not illegal or unlawful for parents to cane their child in Singapore, unless it goes to the extent where the punishment could be deemed as abuse.

When does parental corporal punishment become abuse?

Singapore considers corporal punishment by parents as abuse when it:

  1. Causes unnecessary physical pain, suffering or injury;
  2. Emotional injury; or
  3. Injury to the health or development of the child.

Parents have been convicted for inflicting physical abuse on their children. For example, a father was jailed for beating his 9 year-old son over homework, to the point where his son was admitted to the hospital.

In court, the Public Prosecutor argued that it was clear that the punishment had not been done “simply in a controlled manner for the purpose of discipline, but out of rage.”

How can parental corporal punishment affect a child?

According to a senior consultant at the National University Hospital’s child development unit, the more frequently or severely a child is hit or caned, the more likely he will develop symptoms of depression or anxiety.

The same senior consultant has also commented that studies have shown that corporal punishment is associated with aggressive and antisocial behaviour in later life.

The parent-child relationship plays a big part in moderating effects of corporal punishment.

In other words, the impact of corporal punishment would be larger if it sours the relationship between the parent and child. This can happen when corporal punishment is used excessively, to a point the child believes to be unloved by his parents.

Thus, if parents would like to employ corporal punishment, they should obtain agreement from the child regarding the circumstances under which caning would be employed as a form of punishment and stick to what they have agreed, i.e. to use the cane when the child exhibits a certain behaviour, as agreed upon.

The punishment should also not be given merely out of anger, and the child should understand the reasons for being punished. This may also improve parent-child trust.

What can parents do instead of imposing corporal punishment?

Nonetheless, experts in the area generally do not encourage corporal punishment.

For parents who struggle with disciplining their children, they can turn to evidence-based parenting programmes for help. The Positive Parenting Programme (Triple P) is one such programme parents can look to.

It is a multi-level, prevention-oriented parenting and family support programme that has proved “greater parenting competence, lower parenting stress, improved emotional states and reduced behavioural problems in children.”

The main crux of the Triple P programme strategies is to develop positive parent-child relationships, attitudes and conduct. According to Mr Francis Lee, an accredited Triple P trainer, here are 3 parenting tips from the programme:

  1. Give clear instructions when your child is doing something undesirable. This is so that the child understands from you what is the positive behaviour they should exhibit.
  2. Do not nag when you want your child to do something, instead take actions to ensure your child does what is told. E.g. if you want your child to stop watching TV and do something, turn off the TV instead of nagging repeatedly.
  3. Be aware of your emotions and refrain from disciplining your child when you are unable to be firm and calm in your actions.

We hope that this article has given you a better understanding of corporal punishment in Singapore and offers clarity regarding the parameters within which it is and can be carried out.

For persons charged with an offence and are seeking assistance, please do not hesitate to contact one of our criminal defence lawyers.

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