Published: 10 May 2021
Ms Raeesah Khan: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs whether the Ministry will consider (i) enhancing the criminal penalties for breach of a personal protection order under the Women's Charter or the Protection From Harassment Act to deter such conduct (ii) setting up a specialised support centre for persons under protection orders to report their perpetrators for breach of their protection orders and (iii) conducting a review of the existing framework to protect persons from violence and harassment and to establish areas for improvement.
1. The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) had amended the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) to, among other things, double the prescribed punishment for:
a. Repeat breaches of a protection order or an expedited protection order;
b. Offences under POHA committed against vulnerable persons and persons in intimate relationships;
c. Breach of a protection order or an expedited protection order involving vulnerable persons or persons in intimate relationships.
2. These enhanced penalties have been in force since 1 January 2020.
3. Apart from the enhanced penalties for breaches of protection orders, the Government has been working closely with community partners to support victims of family violence. The National Family Violence Networking System was established in 1996 to connect the Police, Courts, hospitals, social service agencies, and the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) in a network to provide support to victims of family violence. For instance, victims may report breaches of protection orders to the Police, and with their consent, the Police will refer them to the Family Violence Specialist Centres (FVSCs) or Family Service Centres (FSCs) if they require social support or to crisis shelters for temporary accommodation. The FVSCs and FSCs may also accompany victims to make Police reports for breaches of protection orders, or to a hospital if the victims have injuries that require medical attention.
4. MSF also officially launched the 24-hour National Anti-Violence Helpline in February 2021 to make it easier for victims of violence and abuse to seek help.
5. The function of the specialised support centre that the Member asked my Ministry to consider setting up for persons to report breaches of protection orders is not clear. The Member’s question seems to ask the Government to do, what is already being done. If the Member meant something other than what is already being done (and set out above), then she can clarify, and the Government will consider her suggestions.
6. The Government conducts periodic policy reviews of existing laws and measures, including those to protect persons from family violence and harassment. The amendments to POHA in 2019 were a result of MinLaw’s policy review of the measures, after consulting stakeholders and feedback from the public.
7. The Taskforce on Family Violence set up in 2020 is conducting a review of the family violence landscape and identifying recommendations along the following four broad thrusts:
a. Increasing awareness, strengthening societal attitudes against violence, and enhancing targeted preventive efforts for individuals at potential risk;
b. Making it easier for victims and the community to report violence, and to get immediate help;
c. Strengthening protection for victims to reduce their risk of being harmed again; and
d. Increasing the accountability of perpetrators and strengthening their rehabilitation.
8. The Taskforce will present its recommendations later this year.
9. The Member may wish to note that all the above points have been mentioned several times, both in Parliament and public. For instance, the point relating to enhanced penalties for repeated breaches of protection orders had been made during the Second Reading for the Protection from Harassment (Amendment) Bill in May 2019 and in the press releases issued by MinLaw. This point had also been reported in both the online and print media. In February and March this year, I also talked about the enhancements to POHA in the Ministry of Home Affairs’ (MHA) Committee of Supply debates and in the Ministerial Statement on the review of sentencing framework for sexual and hurt offences.
10. The set-up of a Taskforce on Family Violence to look into tackling family violence was first announced by then Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Ms Sun Xueling and then Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Mr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim in February 2020 during the launch of a children educational book on family violence, and subsequently in a joint press release by MHA and MSF in April 2020. Minister of State Ms Sun Xueling also talked about the Taskforce’s mandate in MSF’s Committee of Supply debates in February this year.
11. It will be useful for Members (where possible) to consider the publicly available information, and what has been stated in Parliament, when asking a question.