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Judicial Canings in Singapore: a historic, controversial punishment

Goh Jun Cheng

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The Republic of Singapore is globally renowned for its stringent, and often controversial, law enforcement methods.

One particular form of corporal punishment that has drawn much attention is judicial caning. Implemented under the British colonial rule in the 19th century, this disciplinary measure is entrenched in Singapore’s legal framework, attracting both criticism and admiration worldwide.

Understanding the Roots: A Historical Perspective

Caning, as a judicial punishment, has its roots in the British judicial system. It was introduced to Singapore during the British colonial rule and has since become an integral part of the country’s punitive architecture.

Contrary to some assumptions, caning in Singapore is not a remnant of traditional Asian practices, but rather an inheritance from the British legal system.

The Legal Framework

In Singapore’s context, judicial caning is used as a supplementary punishment, often accompanying a prison sentence.

The types of offenses that warrant caning range from vandalism and illegal immigration to armed robbery and rape. The punishment can only be carried out on males aged between 18 and 50, except for those with certain health conditions or a life sentence.

The Caning Procedure

The process of caning is highly regulated and clinical. The prisoner is first examined by a doctor to determine whether he is physically fit to undergo the punishment. The cane, soaked in water overnight to ensure flexibility and prevent fragmentation, measures about 1.2 meters long and 1.27 cm in diameter.

The convict is then secured to a trestle, and a prison officer administers the caning on the buttocks. Each stroke is delivered with full force, and there’s a pause between strokes, to let the full impact of each hit sink in. The severity of the punishment is such that those who endure it often bear the physical scars for life.

The Controversy

Judicial caning in Singapore has long been a subject of international controversy. On one hand, there are advocates who argue that the practice contributes significantly to Singapore’s reputation as one of the world’s safest cities.

They contend that the stringent measures act as powerful deterrents against potential offenders, maintaining law and order in the society.

On the other hand, there’s a vehement opposition that denounces judicial caning as a violation of human rights.

Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have condemned the practice, categorizing it as cruel, inhumane, and degrading punishment.

The Future of Judicial Caning in Singapore

The future of judicial caning in Singapore remains uncertain. As the world moves towards a more human rights-oriented approach in penal systems, pressure has been mounting on Singapore to reconsider the use of such severe corporal punishment.

However, the Singaporean authorities maintain that their unique social and cultural context calls for strict measures to keep the societal fabric intact.

This punishment represents a dichotomy between a disciplinary approach that ensures low crime rates and a punitive measure that is seen by many as excessively harsh.

The global debate around this issue underlines the broader conversation about criminal justice, societal norms, and human rights, all of which are critical considerations for any society.

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