Penalties for Abetting Minors or Committing Crimes Against Them

Last updated on March 11, 2022

man holding alcohol and keys, with pills on table

In Singapore, abetting minors into committing crimes or committing crimes against them can result in a conviction and penalties including imprisonment, fine and/or caning.

Committing crimes against minors occurs where an illegal act is carried out directly against a victim under the age of 21 years or younger. On the other hand, the offence of abetting minors into committing a crime involves causing a minor to commit an illegal act through instigating, engaging, or intentionally enabling the minor.

This article will explain the law relating to abetment or committing crimes against minors as well as the consequences of their contravention under Singapore law. It will discuss:

Who are Minors?

All persons under the age of 21 years are considered minors in Singapore. However, the relevant age of the minor may vary for different offences. For example, sexual penetration of a minor below 16 years old is illegal regardless of consent but for minors between 16 to 18 years old, the same act is illegal only where it had been exploitative.

Offences and Penalties for Abetting Minors Into Committing Crimes

For abetting minors into committing crimes, you are guilty even if:

  • The crime is ultimately not committed; or
  • A different offence is committed as long as it had been a probable consequence of the abettor’s influence.

Some crimes have specific penalties prescribed for abetting minors to commit them. Otherwise, where no penalties for the specific act amounting to abetment are provided, you will face the penalty prescribed for the offence abetted, even though you may not have committed it yourself. The following paragraphs discuss the prescribed penalties for abetting minors to commit certain offences involving substance abuse, sex offences and more.

Offering/selling drugs to minors

If you abet someone, regardless of whether they are a minor, to consume controlled drugs (whether within or outside Singapore), you can be imprisoned for 1 to 10 years and fined up to $20,000 for a first-time offence under the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA). This offence can apply if you were to offer or sell drugs to a minor.

Additionally, you can also be found guilty of permitting a minor below 21 years old to smoke or consume the drug. If convicted, you can be imprisoned for up to 10 years for a first-time offence.

For example, a woman who provided “ice” to secondary school students, prepared the drug and even provided a space to smoke them was jailed for 7 years and 9 months for violating multiple provisions under the MDA.

Offering/selling cigarettes or alcohol to minors

It is illegal to sell alcohol to minors under 18 years old. Anyone who abets the sale or purchase of alcohol to minors under 18 years old is liable to a fine of up to $5,000.

In relation to cigarettes, the minimum age for buying or smoking cigarettes is 21 years old. Likewise, it is illegal to sell or offer cigarettes to minors. If you obtain cigarettes for yourself and sell them to a minor, you may be fined up to $5,000 for the first-time offence and $10,000 for subsequent offences. Even if you do not receive any money or any benefit in return, simply giving a cigarette to a minor may also result in a fine of up to $500 for the first-time offence and $1,000 for subsequent offences.

If you buy cigarettes for the purpose of giving them to a minor, the penalty is enhanced to a fine of up to $2,500 for the first-time offence and $5,000 for subsequent offences even if you had not been paid to buy cigarettes on the minor’s behalf.

Apart from the penalties above for selling cigarettes to minors, if you are an authorised retailer of cigarettes, your tobacco retail licence may additionally be suspended for a first-time offence and revoked for subsequent offences.  Your licence may be revoked even for a first-time offence if the minor had been under 12 years old or was in school uniform at the time of sale.

What if an adult solely uses a substance in the presence of a minor?

Whether you can be punished for using drugs in the presence of a minor depends on the circumstances. While using drugs where a minor is present is not explicitly criminalised,, it is illegal to leave drugs accessible to a child under 16 years old.

This prohibition applies if you knowingly or recklessly leave drugs exposed or stored without a lock, such as in a cabinet, while knowing that the child may access them. For this offence, you can face up to 10 years’ imprisonment for a first-time offence.

However, it is not illegal for a legal adult to consume alcohol or smoke in front of a minor.

Child pornography

Under the Films Act, it is illegal to make, possess, or otherwise deal in pornographic films in Singapore. If you cause or involve a minor below 18 years old in committing such offences, you may be fined up to $80,000, imprisoned for up to 12 months, or both for a first-time offence.

Abetting minors into committing murder or suicide

Besides the offences specified above, you can also be punished for abetting minors into committing murder or suicide.

In 2001, a man engaged a 15-year-old teenager to kill his estranged wife for $100,000 and even made the teen slash a bolster as practice. The teen was found guilty of murder but as he was under 18 years old, he was detained at the President’s pleasure instead of facing the usual punishment, which is the death penalty. However, for having abetted the teen’s act amounting to murder, the abettor received the penalty for murder and was hung.

While attempting suicide has been decriminalised in Singapore as of 1 January 2020, it remains illegal for anyone to abet the suicide or attempted suicide of minors below 18 years old. The penalty for these offences varies from the death penalty to 15 years’ imprisonment and a fine, depending on factors such as whether the suicide attempt succeeded or whether the minor was hurt in the process.

Offences and Penalties for Committing Crimes Against Minors 

Sex offences

The law recognises the vulnerability of minors and protects them against various sexual offences including rape and sexual assault.

Offenders who are found guilty of committing rape against a minor under 14 years old can face up to 20 years’ imprisonment and either a fine or caning. Where the minor had not consented to the acts, or you are found to have been in an exploitative relationship with the minor, you can be imprisoned for a term between 8 to 20 years and receive 12 strokes of the cane.

Exploitative relationships include those between the minor and the minor’s parent (biological or otherwise), guardian, teacher, religious mentor, doctor or lawyer.

Where the offence involves sexual penetration of a minor who is 14 or older but below 16 years old, a sentence of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine or both is given. If the relationship with the minor had been exploitative, the offender can be imprisoned for up to 20 years in addition to a fine or caning instead.

Other sexual offences against minors include:

  • Commercial sex with someone under 18 years old (within or outside Singapore);
  • Sexual grooming of someone under 16 years old;
  • Sexual communication with someone under 16 years old; and
  • Engaging in sexual activities in the presence of someone under 16 years old.

Child trafficking

Child trafficking is criminalised in Singapore under the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act. It involves recruiting, transporting, harbouring or receiving someone under 18 years old to be exploited. For this offence, it is irrelevant that the victim’s consent was received or that the offender did not use coercion or bribery or had not abused their power over the minor.

How are Offenders Sentenced for Abetting/Committing Crimes Against Minors?

Once criminal liability is established, the sentence to be imposed is decided. This is usually limited by the prescribed maximum or minimum penalties to be imposed. However, within such limits, the sentence may be increased or decreased in severity by the aggravating and mitigating factors present in the case respectively. These are specific circumstances that may make a heavier or lighter sentence more appropriate.

Aggravating factors may include:

  • An abuse of trust
  • Premeditation
  • Violence
  • The vulnerability of the victim
  • Relevant antecedents
  • Lack of remorse
  • Severe harm inflicted

Mitigating factors may include:

  • The display of genuine remorse
  • Youth of the offender
  • Advanced age of the offender
  • Admission of guilt

Ultimately, the weight of each factor depends on the specific facts and nature of the offence and the public interest in punishing a particular sort of behaviour. This can also be seen from the example of the woman who provided drugs to secondary school students above. There, her final sentence was increased in view of other charges relating to drugs and contraband cigarettes and the particularly devastating effect of drugs on the “young and impressionable” teens.

Are the Minors Involved Guilty of an Offence too?

This article has discussed the potential penalties you may face for abetting minors or committing crimes against them. However, the minor in question may also have committed an offence with a prescribed penalty. Generally, minors who are under 10 years old, or between 10 to 12 years old and aren’t mature enough to understand the nature and consequences of their actions, cannot be charged with a crime. However, minors who are older than that may be charged and dealt with in court.

In sentencing minors, rehabilitation is a dominant consideration. Thus, rehabilitative sentences such as probation, community service and corrective training or reformative training may be imposed instead of fines or jail terms unless the offence committed is a serious one. However, even for capital crimes, minors under 18 years old cannot be sentenced to death and will instead face life imprisonment if found guilty.

Parents are not liable for their child’s offence. However, they may be involved in discharging certain obligations, such as paying damages to the victims for any injury or harm caused by their child’s conduct. Moreover, parents should expect to be tasked with or involved in ensuring that their child attends court hearings and abides by the court’s orders.

If you have been charged with an offence for abetting or committing crimes against minors, it is highly advisable to engage a criminal lawyer, who will be able to review the specific facts and circumstances of your case and offer you advice on the next steps to be taken.

Alternatively, if you are a trusted adult of a minor who may have committed an offence, you may also wish to engage a lawyer.

The criminal law procedures in Singapore from investigation, arrest, court hearings, and sentencing can be complicated, especially where young offenders or young victims are involved. Minors may require additional assessment, treatment and protection, which may also affect the sentencing considerations in criminal proceedings.

Moreover, additional procedural arrangements such as applications for gag orders may be necessary to prevent the disclosure of information likely to identify the minors involved.  A lawyer can help to obtain such a gag order as well as guide you and the minor through the criminal proceedings.

You may get in touch with experienced criminal lawyers here.

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