What is the Law on Sexting in Singapore?

Last updated on March 20, 2024

person texting on phone

In 2018, a married man was sentenced to 4 months’ jail for sexting a minor who is believed to be a 15-year-old girl. The man was having sexual conversations on social applications like Tagged with the minor. They exchanged photos including images of their genitalia.

With social and online dating apps growing in popularity amongst youths and young adults, it is not uncommon for young users to have been on the receiving end of inappropriate remarks or requests, where sexual predators on such platforms may attempt to obtain sexual favours or nude photographs from young users.

Although there is no definition of “sexting” under current criminal legislation in Singapore, there are in fact laws in Singapore which act as a deterrent to prohibit inappropriate advances and the sexual exploitation of young individuals.

What is Sexting?

In a world where technology is the general means of communication for most youths, the term “sexting” is typically used to describe the writing of sexually explicit messages and the taking of sexually explicit photos, and transmitting those photos as well as messages to certain parties.

There is nonetheless, no consistent statutory or legal definition of sexting. For instance, it is unclear if sexting is confined to messages between romantic partners, or whether photos sent under duress or pressure constitute sexting.

Laws on Sexting

Although there is a lack of consistent definition, “sexting” to procure sexual intercourse may fall under the provinces of laws that aim to protect young persons against predatory advances.

Section 8 of the Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA)

The CYPA is an Act which aims to provide protection for children and young persons.

Section 2 of the CYPA defines a “child” as a person below 14 years of age and a “young person” as a person who, depending on the offence in question, is 14 years of age or above and below the age of 16 years or 14 years of age or above and below the age of 18 years.

Section 8 of the CYPA criminalises sexual exploitation of a child or young person. It states that:

  • Any person who in public or private “commits or abets the commission of or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any person of any obscene or indecent act with any child or young person”, or
  • Any person who in public or private “procures or attempts to procure the commission of any obscene or indecent act by any child or young person”

is guilty of an offence. This means that should an accused send sexually explicit texts to young persons with the aim of procuring sexual intercourse or other explicit sexual favours, he may fall under section 8 of the CYPA.

It should be noted that where the young person is 16 years of age or above and below the age of 18 years, the offence requires that the victim either did not consent to the obscene or indecent act or the accused is in an exploitative relationship with the victim

However, it is not necessary for the prosecution to prove that the victim did or did not consent to the obscene or indecent act.

In deciding whether an accused’s relationship with a young person of 16 years of age or older but below 18 years of age is exploitative of the young person, the court is to have regard to the:

  • Age of the minor;
  • Difference between the age of the accused and the young person;
  • Nature of the relationship; and
  • Degree of control or influence exercised by the accused over the young person.

However, in some cases listed under section 8(8) of the CYPA, it is presumed until the contrary is proved that the relationship was exploitative where e.g., the accused is a parent, step‑parent, guardian or foster parent of the young person, or a teacher of staff at a school or educational institution at which the young person is a student.

It should also be noted that though the Singapore High Court stated in the same case that an “obscene or indecent act” is not statutorily defined, it would include acts like sexual intercourse and other explicit sexual acts.

Upon conviction, the accused will be fined up to $10,000 and/or jailed for up to 7 years if the offence committed involves a child. If the offence committed involves a young person instead, the accused will be fined up to $10,000 and/or jailed for up to 5 years. Repeat offenders will face higher penalties.

Section 376E of the Penal Code

Section 376E of the Penal Code, on sexual grooming, is another piece of legislation that aims to protect minors under 16.

Under section 376E of the Penal Code, any person of or above 18 years of age (A) is guilty of an offence if having met or communicated with another person (B) on at least one previous occasion:

  • A intentionally meets B or travels intending to meet B or B travels to attend a meeting with A which A has either initiated or agreed to whether expressly or by implication; and at that time;
    • A intends to do anything to or in respect of B, during or after the meeting, which if done will involve the commission by A of a relevant offence;
    • B is below 16 years of age; and
    • A does not reasonably believe that B is of or above 16 years of age.

“Relevant offences” refer to sexual offences found in the Penal Code, section 8 of the CYPA (covering sexual exploitation as discussed above) and section 140(1) of the Women’s Charter which covers offences relating to prostitution.

While there are no outright references to “sexting” in Section 376E, communications of a sexual nature may nonetheless be taken into consideration when determining if the elements of the offence have been fulfilled.

For instance, the Singapore High Court in PP v Lee Seow Peng viewed the message trail on SMS and WhatsApp as evidence of communication and the sexually explicit communication as demonstrating the accused’s clear intention of having sexual intercourse with the victim.

The young can be vulnerable to the pressures of inappropriate sexual advances or requests made on apps or other social platforms. Whether you are a young person or a parent, it is important to be aware of the implications and dangers of online dating and social media platforms.

If you’re an accused charged with an offence discussed in this article, or your child is a victim of any of such offences, you may wish to engage a criminal lawyer to discuss how to proceed with your case.

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