Published: 06 August 2020
1. The Women’s Charter (Amendment) Act, which was passed in Parliament on 4 November 2019, will come into force on 7 August 2020. The changes to the Women’s Charter (“WC”) strengthen the laws against online vice, and enhance the Police’s levers against vice syndicates. These changes will help to stem an increasing trend of vice in the heartlands.
Responsible lease of premises
2. A key intent of the amendments to the WC is to deprive vice syndicates of operating space in residential estates, particularly in the heartlands, so as to prevent vice activities from causing disamenities in these areas.
3. The revised section 148 of the WC makes clearer the responsibilities of owners, tenants and other parties involved in the lease of any premises. The owner of a property at which vice activities were detected, or a tenant who sub-lets such a property, must show that they had no knowledge of, and could not, with reasonable diligence, have ascertained that the place was to be used as a brothel, at the point of signing their lease agreements.
4. We would like to remind Housing & Development Board (HDB) flat owners that they are responsible for conducting regular checks to ensure that their tenants do not misuse the flat, further rent out any part of the flat, or create nuisances to their neighbours, as specified under HDB’s Terms and Conditions. HDB takes a serious view of flat owners and tenants who violate such conditions, particularly if the flat is misused for vice activities, and will not hesitate to take the appropriate action against such flat owners and their tenants.
5. We are also partnering the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA), property agencies and agents, to assist and advise property owners and tenants on conducting due diligence checks. CEA has issued a Practice Circular to the real estate agency industry on how property agents can play their part to prevent vice activities in the heartlands.
Introduce extra-territorial jurisdiction
6. The Act introduces extra-territorial jurisdiction to Section 146A of the WC, to deal with the cross-jurisdiction operations of vice syndicates. This enables the Police to take more decisive action against any person using remote communication services to offer or facilitate the provision of sexual services in Singapore, even if the websites used to provide such services are hosted overseas.
7. The revised WC also has enhanced penalties, to achieve greater deterrence and to match profits derived by vice syndicates who exploit and profit off women and girls. These are as follows:
a) Maximum imprisonment terms have been raised from three years to five years for a first conviction, and for more severe offences, from five years to seven years. The maximum imprisonment term for repeat offenders have been increased accordingly, to seven years, and for more severe offences, to 10 years.
b) Maximum fines have been raised to $100,000 for a first conviction, and $150,000 for repeat offenders. The current maximum fines range from $2,000 to $10,000 for a first conviction, and $10,000 to $15,000 for repeat offenders.
c) The higher imprisonment terms and fines for repeat offenders have been applied to all prostitution-related offences under the WC.
8. The Act also introduced other amendments to ensure that we remain effective against the changing modus operandi of vice syndicates, such as broadening the definition of “brothel” to include any place that has been advertised or represented as being used for the purpose of prostitution, and is likely to be used for the purpose of prostitution.