Child Pornography in Singapore: Offences and Penalties
In general, child pornography refers to the capturing and/or distribution of material (known as “child abuse material”) which depicts a child below the age of 16 who is:
- Participating in sexual activity;
- In a state of nakedness (where the depiction is sexual and would reasonably be regarded as offensive); or
- In the presence of another person who is engaging in sexual activity.
Disturbingly, in 2017, there was a reported increase of 12% of Singapore-hosted websites distributing child abuse material.
Knowingly or unknowingly, you may have come across such material on the internet, or may have been caught with child abuse material in your possession.
This article outlines:
- The various offences related to child pornography and their penalties
- Sentencing guidelines for child pornography offences
- Possible defences to crimes related to child pornography
- Whether you can be arrested without warrant for involvement in child pornography offences
- The next steps if you’ve been convicted for child pornography-related offences
The Penal Code of Singapore includes offences relating to child pornography that took effect on 1 January 2020. Among others, these offences include:
- Involving a child in production of child abuse material
- Producing child abuse material
- Distributing or selling child abuse material
- Advertising or seeking child abuse material
- Possessing or gaining access to child abuse material
- Sexual grooming
The production of child abuse material is especially heinous because it capitalises on the vulnerability and naivete of children. Therefore, targeting the roots of this problem, it is an offence to involve, or consent to involving, a child in the production of child abuse material.
If you fall within any of these categories, you may be held criminally liable:
- Someone who has used a child below the age of 16 in producing child abuse material, as defined above.
- Someone who has facilitated the use of a child under the age of 16, for the production of child abuse material. The facilitation may take the form of inviting or encouraging the child to be involved, or offering the child to be involved, in the production of the material.
- Someone who had been entrusted with the care or custody of a person below the age of 16, and who consented or allowed the child to be used in such a manner. This is not restricted to those who are entrusted with the child’s care by law, such as under a custody order after a divorce.
Producing child abuse material
Producing child abuse material in any form is a crime, where it was done knowingly or if the offender should reasonably have known the nature of what they were producing.
Such material may be produced in the form of film, photograph, recording, drawing or writing, among others. Even indirect production such as altering, copying or manipulating existing material lies within the scope of this offence.
Similar to the offence of involving a child in producing child abuse material, the offence of producing child abuse material attracts an imprisonment term of up to 10 years, accompanied by a fine or caning.
Distributing or selling child abuse material
You may face liability for this offence if you fulfil 2 requirements:
- You have distributed, sold or offered for sale any child abuse material. This also extends to material that is kept in possession with the intention of sale or distribution; and
- You knew or ought to have known that the material in question is child pornography.
Advertising or seeking child abuse material
Any person who advertises to sell or distribute any child abuse material is also guilty of an offence under the Penal Code. The same applies to any person who announces an intention or offer to buy, or gain access to child abuse material in any other way.
Possessing, gaining access to or viewing child abuse material
If you are in possession of any child abuse material, you are guilty of an offence. Aside from physical possession, possession under this provision includes electronic possession if you control electronic access to the material.
Even the viewing of child pornography is a crime.
Sexual grooming and sexual exploitation
In the event that the perpetrator of any of the above offences is someone who had met the victim at least once before, the commission of the offence may also constitute sexual grooming of a minor.
This is provided that all of the following conditions are met:
- The accused person was above 18 years of age and the minor was below 16 years of age;
- The two had met or communicated before at least once;
- The accused person had organised a meeting with the victim with the intention of producing child abuse material; and
- The accused person does not reasonably believe that the victim is at least 16 years of age.
Sentencing Guidelines for Child Pornography Offences
Although there do not seem to be any specific sentencing guidelines for offences relating to child abuse material, the courts generally mete out harsher punishments when the victim is a vulnerable person, or where the offender is in a close or intimate relationship with the victim.
This is primarily due to the fact that such victims are often emotionally and financially dependent on the offender, who unfortunately abuse the trust of the child and exploit their relationship with them.
A “vulnerable person” refers to someone who is unable to protect himself from abuse, neglect or self-neglect, due to mental or physical disability or incapacity.
These “harsher penalties” mean up to twice the original maximum punishment for that same offence and are applicable in the following circumstances:
- If the offender knowingly committed an offence of child pornography involving a child under the age of 14. This is unless the child was capable of protecting himself from the harm caused by the offender, notwithstanding his age.
- If the offender was in an intimate relationship with the victim at the time of the offence. This is unless the fact that the parties were in a relationship did not adversely affect the victim’s ability to protect himself. An intimate relationship may include instances where the child is in a sexual relationship with the adult.
- If the offender was in a close relationship with the victim at the time of the offence, unless this relationship did not adversely affect the victim’s ability to protect himself. The parties can be considered to be in a close relationship where they live in the same household and have frequent contact with each other, for example, if their relationship is that of parent and child.
Offences committed outside Singapore
For a person overseas to be convicted of an offence relating to producing child pornography or involving a child in producing child pornography in Singapore, there must be some connection between the accused, the victim or the offence itself with Singapore.
For instance, the child abuse material must have been distributed in Singapore, or the victim being depicted in the material, lives in Singapore.
If there is such a connection, the Penal Code dictates that the overseas accused person will be equally liable for the offence as if it had been committed in Singapore.
The various situations in which offenders would be liable in Singapore, even if they are located overseas, are outlined in the infographic below:
(Click on the image to download it in a new tab)
An accused person will not be excused from a child pornography-related offence just because he mistakenly believed, while committing the offence, that reasonable persons would not consider the child abuse material to be offensive.
Aside from this, there are certain defences that can result in the accused being acquitted if they are successfully proven (see below).
However, it is likely that courts would interpret these defences restrictively to set a high threshold for the successful use of these defences, especially where young victims have suffered psychological harm.
Child abuse material collected, produced or distributed for a legitimate purpose
First, if the child abuse material had been collected, produced or distributed for a legitimate purpose, and without intent to cause injury to the person depicted in such material, the accused person would not be guilty of an offence. Such legitimate purposes would include:
- The prevention or investigation of any offence
- In order to conduct or obtain evidence for proceedings in any court or tribunal
- For safety or national security
For the above defences, there is an additional requirement that the offensive material was not kept in possession for a period longer than necessary.
Child abuse material produced, collected or distributed for a purpose related to science, medicine, education or art
Second, if the child abuse material was produced, collected or distributed for a purpose related to science, medicine, education or art, the accused person may be acquitted of the charge if the material did not pose undue risk to a person below 16 years of age.
For instance, if a researcher collects child abuse material for the purpose of examining the psychological effects of exposure to such material, he may be excused since his collection is for scientific research purposes.
Unintentionally coming into possession of the child pornographic material
Third, if the offender is accused of possession of child abuse material, it may be a defence if he is able to prove that he did not intentionally come into possession of it and took all reasonable steps to cease possession as soon as possible.
This could, for instance, include an accidental download of child pornography from the internet, through a computer virus, followed by the immediate deletion of such material upon realising what it was.
Child pornography depicting the accused himself and made of his own accord
If the material that qualifies as child pornography is only of the accused person himself, who is below 16 years of age, the accused person may be excused.
For instance, if a child below the age of 16 takes a nude picture of himself, and this image is stored in his phone, it will not render him liable for an offence.
Child abuse material of a married couple made with consent
Where the accused person and victim, who is below 16 years of age, are married, the accused person may be excused if the material depicted only the married couple, and the victim consented to its production.
Can You be Arrested Without a Warrant for Offences of Child Pornography?
All the offences mentioned above are arrestable offences. This means you can be arrested without police officers having to obtain an arrest warrant from the court first.
You’ve Been Convicted of a Child Pornography Offence, What Next?
If you have been convicted of an offence of child pornography, it counts as a registrable crime and will result in a criminal record.
If you have been convicted of the offence of advertising or seeking child abuse material, or the offence of possessing or gaining access to child abuse material, you may be able to have your criminal record treated as spent. This simply means that your record will be wiped clean.
To qualify for having your record spent, you must first meet the following criteria:
- If you were given a prison sentence, your imprisonment term must have been not more than 3 months;
- If you were given a fine, the fine imposed on you must have been not more than $2,000;
- You must not have any other conviction on your criminal record; and
- You must not have any previous spent record on the register.
If you are convicted of committing the other types of child pornography offences, your criminal record unfortunately cannot be treated as spent.
In all except limited instances, dealing with child abuse material in the ways mentioned above can result in you receiving an imprisonment term and/or a fine or caning. A conviction of child pornography may also remain on your criminal record for the long-term.
If you have been arrested for an offence of child pornography, you are recommended to engage a criminal lawyer to advise and represent you. The lawyer will be able to help you highlight facts in your case which may assist the court in allowing your defence, or reducing your sentence.
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