Caning in Singapore

Caning in Singapore

Caning is a widely used form of legal corporal punishment in Singapore. It can be divided into several contexts: judicial, military, school, reformatory/prison, and domestic/private.

Of these, judicial caning, for which Singapore is best known, is the most severe. It is reserved for male criminals aged under 50, for a wide range of offences under the Criminal Procedure Code. Caning is also a legal form of punishment for delinquent male members of the military (Singapore Armed Forces -- SAF) and this is administered in the SAF Detention Barracks. Caning is also an official punishment in reform schools and as a prison disciplinary measure.

In a milder form, caning is used to punish male youths in many Singaporean schools for serious misbehaviour.

A much smaller cane or other implement is also used by some parents as punishment for their children of either sex. This is not outlawed in Singapore.


Judicial caning

See also: Judicial corporal punishment


Caning, as a form of legally sanctioned corporal punishment for convicted criminals, was first introduced to Singapore and Malaysia (both then part of British Malaya) during the British colonial period. It was formally codified under the Straits Settlements Penal Code Ordinance IV.[1]

In that era, offences punishable by caning were similar to those punishable by birching or flogging in England and Wales, and included:[1]

Caning remained on the statute book after Malaysia declared independence from Britain, and likewise in Singapore after it ceased to be part of Malaysia. Subsequent legislation has been passed by the Singaporean Parliament over the years to increase the minimum strokes an offender receives, and the number of crimes that may be punished with caning.[1]

Legal basis

Sections 325 to 332 of the Criminal Procedure Code[2] lay down the procedures governing caning, including:

  • A convicted male criminal who is between the ages of 18 and 50 and has been certified medically fit by a medical officer may be subjected to judicial caning.
  • He will receive a maximum of 24 strokes of the cane on any one occasion, irrespective of the total number of offences committed.
  • If the offender is under 18 he may receive up to 10 strokes of the cane, but a lighter rattan cane will be used in this case. Boys under 16 may be sentenced to caning only by the High Court and not by district or juvenile courts.
  • The convict will not be caned if he has been sentenced to death.
  • The rattan cane shall not exceed half an inch (1.27 cm) in diameter and 1.2 metres in length.

Any male criminal, whether sentenced to caning or not, may also be caned in prison if he breaks prison rules.

Offences punishable by caning

Singaporean law allows caning to be ordered for over 30 offences, including hostage-taking,[3] robbery, gang robbery with murder, drug use, vandalism, and rioting.[4] Caning is also a mandatory punishment for certain offences such as rape, drug trafficking, illegal money-lending,[5] and for visiting foreigners who overstay their visa by more than 90 days, a measure designed to deter illegal immigrant workers.[6]

Contrary to what has sometimes been misreported, the use or importation of chewing gum is subject only to fines; it is not and has never been a caneable offence.[7]


In 1993 the number of criminals caned was 3,244.[8] By 2007, this figure had doubled to 6,404 criminals sentenced to caning. Of these sentences, about 95% were actually implemented.[9]

Caning takes place at several establishments around Singapore, notably Changi Prison but also including Queenstown Remand Centre, where Michael P. Fay was caned in 1994. Canings are also administered in the Drug Rehabilitation Centres.

The cane

A rattan cane four feet (1.2 metres) long and half an inch (1.27 cm) thick[10] is used for prison and judicial canings. It is at about twice as thick as the canes used in the school and military contexts. The cane is soaked in water beforehand to make it heavier and more flexible. The Prisons Department denies that canes are soaked in brine, but has said that the cane is treated with antiseptic before use to prevent infection. A lighter cane is used for offenders aged under 18.[11]

Administration procedure

Caning is in practice always ordered in addition to a jail sentence and never as a punishment by itself. It is administered in an enclosed area in the prison, out of view of the public and other inmates. Those present are limited to the inmate, prison wardens, medical officers, the caning officer and sometimes high-ranking prison officials to witness the punishment.[1]

An inmate sentenced to caning receives no advance warning as to when he will be caned, and is notified only on the day his sentence is to be carried out.[12] In the caning room, the inmate is ordered to strip naked and receives a medical examination by the prison doctor[1] to check whether he is medically fit for caning, by measuring his blood pressure and other physical conditions. If the doctor gives the green light, the inmate then receives his caning, but if he is certified unfit for punishment, he is sent back to the court for his prison term to be increased instead. A prison official confirms with him the number of strokes he is to receive.[1]

The inmate is then led to the A-shaped frame (called a "caning trestle") and his wrists and ankles secured tightly to the frame by strong leather straps[1] in such a way that he assumes a bent-over position on the frame at an angle of close to 90° at the hip, with his posterior protruding.[1] Protective padding is placed on his lower back to protect the vulnerable kidney and lower spine area from any mis-strokes[1] so that only his buttocks are exposed to the cane. The officer administering the caning takes up position beside the frame and delivers the number of strokes specified in the sentence, at intervals of 10 to 15 seconds. He is required to put his full force into each stroke.[1] The strokes are administered all in one caning session,[13] unless the medical officer certifies that the inmate cannot receive any more strokes because of his condition, in which case the rest of the strokes are converted to additional prison time.[1]

Medical treatment and the effects

The immediate physical effects when the cane comes into contact have been exaggerated in some popular accounts; nevertheless, some physical damage may be inflicted, depending on the number of strokes. Michael P. Fay, a recipient of four strokes, said: "There was some blood. I mean, let's not exaggerate, and let's not say a few drops or that the blood was gushing out. It was in between the two. It's like a bloody nose."[14] More profuse bleeding may, however, occur in the case of a larger number of strokes.[1]

After the caning, the inmate is released from the frame and receives medical treatment.[1] Antiseptic lotion (gentian violet) is applied and the wounds left to heal.[1] Where a large number of strokes is given, there is long-term scarring of the buttocks.[1] Those caned are not eligible to serve in the Singapore Armed Forces as conscripts if they have not already done so.[1]

Notable cases

  • American Michael P. Fay, whose conviction for vandalism and sentence of 6 strokes of the cane attracted worldwide publicity and sparked off a minor diplomatic crisis between Singapore and the United States. The Singaporean government reduced Fay's sentence from six to four strokes, and he was caned on 5 May 1994.
  • Dickson Tan Yong Wen, because of an administrative error, received 3 more strokes than he was sentenced to. Tan was sentenced on 28 February 2007 to a total of 9 months in jail and 5 strokes of the cane for two offences involving abetting an illegal moneylender to harass a debtor. He received 8 strokes on 29 March 2007.[15] Tan sought S$3 million from the government in compensation, but this was rejected. He did receive some compensation after negotiations, but the amount was kept secret.[16]
  • Two Taiwanese nationals, Su Wei Ying and Wu Wei Chun, were sentenced in September 2010 to 21 and 24 months' jail respectively, and both received 15 strokes of the cane for loansharking offences. Another Taiwanese national, Chen Ci Fan, was sentenced in January 2011 to 46 months' jail and 6 strokes of the cane, also in connection with loansharking.[18] Representative of Taiwan to Singapore Vanessa Shih (史亞平) said her staff had visited them in jail and informed their family. She urged Taiwanese to abide by Singapore law while in the city-state.


None of the following may be sentenced to caning:

  • Women
  • Men sentenced to death
  • Men above 50
  • Anyone who is found to be medically unfit for caning

Prison caning

Under the Prisons Act, prison superintendents may impose corporal punishment not exceeding 12 strokes of the cane for aggravated prison offences.[19] This punishment can be imposed after due inquiry at a "mini-court" inside the prison, during which the prisoner is given an opportunity to hear the charge and evidence against him and to present his defence. The Prisons Director must approve the punishment before it can be carried out. It is administered in the same manner as for judicial caning.

Inmates of Drug Rehabilitation Centres may be caned in the same way.

In 2008 the procedure was revised to introduce a review of each prison caning award by an independent external panel.[20]

Military caning

In the Singapore Armed Forces, a subordinate military court, or the officer in charge of a disciplinary barrack, may discipline a serviceman with a maximum of 24 strokes of the cane (with a maximum of 12 strokes per offence, 10 in the case of minors) for breaching certain military rules. In either case, the punishment must be confirmed by the Armed Forces Council before it can be administered. The minimum age for caning within the Armed Forces is 16 (now 16.5 de facto, since entry into the Armed Forces is restricted to those above that age).[21]

Military corporal punishment is less severe than its civilian counterpart, designed not to cause undue bleeding or permanent scars. The offender wears a protective cloth so as not to cut the buttocks. Caning is mainly used on recalcitrant teenage conscripts.[22] The cane used is 6.35 millimetres (1/4 inch) in diameter (half the thickness of the prison/judicial cane)[23] though it is about the same length. This is similar to the cane used in secondary schools. However, the offender is bound in a bending position to an A-frame exactly as for judicial caning.[24]

No statistics have been published as to how many military personnel are caned.

School caning

Caning is also used as a form of corporal punishment in primary and, especially, secondary schools, and also in one or two post-secondary colleges, to maintain strict discipline in school. This is applicable only to male students: it is illegal to cane girls. The punishment is administered formally along traditional British lines, typically in the form of a predetermined number of vigorous cuts across the seat of the student's trousers as he bends over a desk or chair.

The Ministry of Education encourages schools to punish boys by caning for serious offences such as fighting, smoking, cheating, gangsterism, vandalism, defiance and truancy.[25] Students may also be caned for repeated cases of more minor offences, such as being late repeatedly in a term. The punishment may be administered only by the Principal or Vice-Principal, or by a specially designated and trained Discipline Master. At most schools, caning comes after detention but before suspension in the hierarchy of penalties.[26] Some schools use a demerit points system, whereby students receive a mandatory caning after accumulating a certain number of demerit points for a wide range of offences.[26]

Under Ministry regulations, the punishment should not exceed a maximum of 6 strokes, and can only be administered on the palms or buttocks using a light rattan cane of about 4 feet long.[27] However, the majority of the canings range from one to three very hard strokes, applied to the seat of the boy's trousers or shorts.[26]

Canings in schools may be classified as:

  • Private caning: Boy is caned in the principal's office
  • Class caning: Boy is caned in front of his class
  • Public caning: Boy is caned on stage during assembly in front of the whole school population, to serve as a warning to potential offenders as well as to shame the student. This is usually reserved for serious offences committed like fighting, smoking or vandalism.

School caning is a solemn and formal ceremory. Before the caning, the Discipline Master usually explains the student's offence to the audience. Next, a protective item (book or file) will be tucked into the boy's trouser waistband to protect the lower back from mis-strokes.[26] He will be directed to bend over a table or a chair, with his buttocks pushed a little up and back. In this position, the boy will be caned across his buttocks, according to the number of strokes prescribed. He will normally experience superficial bruises and weals for some days after the punishment.[28]

Certain schools have special practices for caning, such as making the student change into PE attire for the punishment. Some schools require the student to read out a public apology before receiving his strokes.

Boys of any age from 6 to 19 may be caned, but the majority of canings are of secondary school students aged 14–16 inclusive.[26] The Ministry of Education recommends that the student receive counselling before and/or after his caning.

Routine school canings are naturally not normally publicised, so cases only get reported in the press in rare special cases.[29][30][31][32][33][34]

Parental caning

Canes sold in grocery stores, used by parents to discipline children at home

Caning is used as a form of punishment in the home for children (both boys and girls) and is usually meted out by their parents, the most common offences being disobedience and lying.[35] This form of punishment is legal in Singapore, but not particularly encouraged by the authorities, and parents are likely to be charged with child abuse if the child is injured.

The Singapore domestic cane (for children, not to be confused with judicial cane): A thin, rattan cane (~65 cm) with a plastic hook at the end, which comes in a variety of colours. They are available in neighbourhood shops selling household items, and is used for the purpose of disciplining children and adolescents at home. Each cane costs about 50 Singapore cents, with best sales during examination time.[36]

Sometimes parents use other implements such as the handle of a feather-duster (made of rattan), rulers or even clothes hangers. The misbehaving child is usually caned on the thighs, calves, buttocks or palms. This type of caning usually leaves the child with cane marks which will fade within days.

According to a survey conducted by The Sunday Times (Singapore) in January 2009, out of the 100 parents surveyed, 57 said that caning was an acceptable form of punishment and they had used it on their children. [37]

Objections to corporal punishment

Amnesty International has condemned the practice of judicial caning in Singapore as "cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment".[38] Also, it is regarded by some international observers as a violation of Article 1 in the United Nations Convention Against Torture. However, Singapore is not signatory to the Convention.[39]

In arts and media


  • Sān Gè Hăo Rén (Three Good People; Simplified Chinese: 3个好人) (2005)[40] - a Singaporean film by Jack Neo which portrays the lives of three convicts in prison. It also reflects the social stigma towards ex-convicts. A judicial caning scene was featured in the film in which one of the three convicts (played by Henry Thia) receives his caning sentence of 6 strokes. The scene is not featured explicitly and only the audio is heard in that scene instead of visual images.
  • Xiăo Hái Bú Bèn Èr (I Not Stupid Too) or in correct English translation Children are Not Stupid Part Two; Simplified Chinese: 小孩不笨2) (2006)[41] - a Singaporean film by Jack Neo which reflects the life of an ordinary Singaporean teenager in school and with his parents. One of the main characters, Tom Yeo (played by Shawn Lee), is publicly caned in school for fighting with his teacher. The caning scene is graphically portrayed, with the young man bending over a desk on stage in the school hall to receive three very hard strokes across the seat of his trousers in front of the assembled student body. This faithfully reproduced the procedure used in real life at the school where the scene was filmed, Presbyterian High School. However, it should be noted that in actual fact, the offender rarely screams, and a protective item will be placed to protect his spine in case of mis-trokes. The public caning issue sparked off a debate in which it became apparent that some members of the Singaporean public did not realise that corporal punishment is widely used in secondary schools. Many seemed pleased to discover this, and letters in local newspapers suggested that the caning of errant schoolboys has wide support.
  • Shí Sān Biān (The Homecoming; Simplified Chinese: 十三鞭) (2007)[42] - a Mediacorp television production. The Chinese title of the TV series translates as "Thirteen Strokes". In the TV series, four men were convicted of arson in their youth and sentenced to imprisonment and 3 strokes of caning each. One of them (played by Rayson Tan) received an extra stroke of caning, supposedly for being the mastermind. Several years later when he becomes a successful lawyer, he sets off to find out who betrayed him and takes his revenge. The caning scene is featured in one of the episodes.


  • The Caning of Michael Fay: The Inside Story by a Singaporean (1994)[43][44] - a documentary book by Gopal Baratham published in the wake of the controversial caning of Michael P. Fay. It concentrates on the personal aspects, the punishment and the sociology of caning in Singapore. The book includes some descriptions of caning and photographs of its results, as well as two personal interviews with men who had been caned before.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "Judicial Caning in Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei". World Corporal Punishment Research. August 2006. Retrieved 2008-08-10. 
  2. ^ Singapore Criminal Procedure Code
  3. ^ Parliamentary Debates, Official Report, 16 August 2010.
  4. ^ "Singapore: Judicial and prison caning: Table of offences for which caning is available". World Corporal Punishment Research. 2011. Retrieved 2011-10-25. 
  5. ^ Parliamentary Debates, Official Report, 18 August 2010.
  6. ^ Immigration Act, s.15.
  7. ^ Control of Manufacture Act, Chapter 57.
  8. ^ Singapore Human Rights Practices 1994, US State Department.
  9. ^ Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2007, US State Department, released 11 March 2008.
  10. ^ Prison Regulations 132(2).
  11. ^ Criminal Procedure Code, § 229(4).
  12. ^ "'No advance notice' for caning". The Straits Times (Singapore). 4 May 1994.
  13. ^ Criminal Procedure Code, § 231.
  14. ^ Reuters, "Fay describes caning, seeing resulting scars". Los Angeles Times. 26 June 1994.
  15. ^ Viyajan, K.C. (30 June 2007). "Vandal caned three strokes more than ordered". The Straits Times (Singapore).
  16. ^ Viyajan, K.C. (20 August 2008). "Caning error: Ex-inmate accepts mediated settlement". The Straits Times (Singapore).
  17. ^ Chong, Elena (26 June 2010). "Swiss vandal gets 5 months, 3 strokes". The Straits Times (Singapore). 
  18. ^ Yeo, Andre (12 January 2011). "Taiwanese gets 46 mths jail, caning over loansharking offences". Channel News Asia (Singapore).
  19. ^ Prisons Act (ch.247), sec.71, Singapore Statutes OnLine.
  20. ^ Teh Joo Lin (15 September 2008). "New check on punishing prisoners". The Straits Times (Singapore).
  21. ^ Singapore: Caning in the military forces at World Corporal Punishment Research (includes a photograph of a military caning in progress).
  22. ^ "Murder charge soldiers can be court-martialled". The Straits Times (Singapore). 30 July 1975. 
  23. ^ Armed Forces Act 1972, cap.295.
  24. ^ "Pride, Discipline, Honour" (book commemorating 40th anniversary of the SAF Military Police Command), Singapore Armed Forces, 2006.
  25. ^ Speech by Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Acting Minister for Education, 14 May 2004.
  26. ^ a b c d e "Corporal punishment in Singapore schools". World Corporal Punishment Research. Retrieved 2009-01-14. 
  27. ^ Regulation No 88 under the Schools Regulation Act 1957.
  28. ^ Singapore: School CP.
  29. ^ Liew Hanqing; Tan, Pearly; Tan, Audrey (3 May 2009). "New students warned to avoid bully group". The New Paper (Singapore). 
  30. ^ "Students distressed by public canings just days before exams". (Singapore). 13 October 2009. 
  31. ^ Bharwani, Veena (29 January 2008). "2 students caught taking 'upskirt' pics of teacher". MyPaper (Singapore). 
  32. ^ Liaw Wy-Cin (23 April 2007). "'Gangster school' fights back with lots of heart". The Straits Times (Singapore). 
  33. ^ Tan, Valarie (26 January 2006). "Schools left to decide on students' discipline: Education Ministry". Channel News Asia (Singapore). 
  34. ^ Jessica Lim and Tracy Sua (14 April 2006). "Schoolboy punched, jaw fractured". The Straits Times (Singapore). 
  35. ^ Mathi, Braema; Andrianie, Siti (11 April 1999). "Spare your child the rod? No.". The Sunday Times (Singapore).
  36. ^ Mathi, Braema; Andrianie, Siti (11 April 1999). "Kids say: What works for them". The Sunday Times (Singapore).
  37. ^ Sudderuddin, Shuli (13 September 2009). "To cane or not to cane...". Asiaone (Singapore).
  38. ^ Amnesty International Report 2008: Singapore.
  39. ^ "Status of Ratifications, Office of the United Nations High Commission of Human Rights". 
  40. ^ San ge hao ren at the Internet Movie Database
  41. ^ Xiaohai bu ben 2 at the Internet Movie Database
  42. ^ Teo, Wendy (3 April 2007). "Rayson Tan bares his bum for the first time in new Channel 8 drama, only to become...The butt of jokes". The New Paper (Singapore).
  43. ^ Baratham, Gopal (1994). The caning of Michael Fay. Singapore: KRP Publications. ISBN 9810057474
  44. ^ Review of this book at World Corporal Punishment Research.

External links

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