is used widely as a legal form of corporal punishment in Singapore.
It can be subdivided into several contexts,
namely domestic/private, school, reform school, military and
Of these, judicial caning, for which Singapore is best known, is
the most severe. It is reserved for male criminals aged under 50,
for at least 30 different offences under the Criminal Procedure Code
. Caning is also a
legal form of punishment for delinquent male members of the
military (Singapore Armed
-- SAF) and these canings are administered in the SAF
Detention Barracks. Caning is also an official punishment in reform
schools and a form of prison disciplinary measure. In a much milder
form, caning is used to punish boys and youths in many Singaporean
A much smaller cane is also used by some parents as a punishment
for their children of either sex. This is not outlawed in
See also: Judicial corporal
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
It was formally codified under the Straits
Settlements Penal Code Ordinance IV
In that era, offences punishable by caning were similar to those
punishable by birching or flogging in England and Wales, and
Caning remained on the statute book after Malaysia declared
independence from Britain, and likewise in Singapore after it
declared independence from Malaysia. Subsequent legislation has
been passed by the Singaporean
over the years to increase the minimum strokes an
offender receives, and the number of crimes that may be punished
Sections 227 to 233 of the Criminal
lay down the procedures governing caning,
- 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
- 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. Male juveniles under the age of 16 may be
sentenced to caning only by the High Court and not by district
- He will not be caned if he has been sentenced to death.
- The thickness of the rattan cane shall not exceed half an inch
(1.27 cm) in diameter.
A convicted male criminal not sentenced to caning may be caned in
prison if he breaks prison rules.
Offences punishable by caning
allows caning to be
ordered for over 30 offences, including robbery
, gang robbery with murder
, drug use, vandalism, and rioting. Caning is
also a mandatory punishment for certain offences such as rape
and for visiting foreigners who overstay their visa
by more than 90 days.
In 1993 the number of criminals caned was 3,244.By 2007, this
figure had doubled to 6,404 criminals sentenced to caning. Of these
sentences, about 95% were actually implemented.
takes place at several establishments around Singapore, notably
Prison but also including Queenstown Remand Centre, where
Michael P. Fay
was caned in 1994. Canings are also
administered in the Drug Rehabilitation Centres.
cane four feet (1.2 metres) long and
half an inch (1.27 cm) thick is used for prison and judicial
canings. It is larger and heavier than the canes used in the
domestic, 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
before use to prevent
infection. A lighter cane is used for juvenile offenders.
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.
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. In the caning room, the inmate is ordered to
strip naked and receives a medical examination by the prison doctor
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.
The inmate is then led to the A-shaped frame (called a "caning
") and his wrists and ankles secured
tightly to the frame by strong leather straps 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. Protective padding is placed on his lower back to
protect the vulnerable kidney
area from any mis-strokes 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. The strokes are administered all in one caning
session, 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
Medical treatment and the effects
The immediate physical effects when the cane comes into contact
have been exaggerated in some popular accounts; nevertheless,
significant physical damage is inflicted. As described by Michael
P. Fay, a recipient of 4 strokes of the cane: "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." More profuse bleeding may, however, occur in
the case of a larger number of strokes.
After the caning, the inmate is released from the frame and
receives medical treatment. Antiseptic lotion (gentian violet
) is applied and the wounds
left to heal. Where a large number of strokes is given, there is
long-term scarring of the buttocks. Those caned are not eligible to
serve in the Singapore Armed
if they have not
- 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 6 to 4 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. Tan
sought S$3 million from the government in compensation for
receiving 3 more strokes than he was sentenced to, but this was
rejected. He did receive some compensation after negotiations, but
the amount was kept secret.
Under the Prisons Act, prison superintendents may impose corporal
punishment not exceeding 12 strokes of the cane for aggravated
prison offences. 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
In 2008 the procedure was revised to introduce a review of each
prison caning award by an independent external panel.
In the Singapore Armed
, a subordinate military court, or the officer in charge
of a disciplinary barrack, may sentence an offender to a maximum of
24 strokes of the cane (with a maximum of 12 strokes per offence,
10 in the case of minors) for breaking 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 (16.5 de facto
, due to laws
restricting entry into the Armed Forces to those 16.5 years of age
Military caning is less severe than its civilian counterpart,
designed not to cause bleeding or permanent scars, and is not
administered on the bare buttocks. Caning is mainly used on
recalcitrant teenage conscripts. The cane used is only 6.35
millimetres (1/4 inch) in diameter (half the thickness of the
No statistics have been published as to how many military personnel
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 only applicable to male students. The punishment is
administered formally in the British schoolboy caning style.
The Ministry of
encourages schools to punish boys by caning for such
offences as fighting, smoking, cheating, gangsterism, disrespect or
vandalism. Students may also be caned for repeated cases of more
minor offences, such as being late five times in a term. The
punishment may be administered only by the Principal or
Vice-Principal, or by a specially designated and trained Discipline
Master, usually in the Principal's office. At most schools, caning
comes after detention
but before suspension
in the hierarchy of penalties..
Under Ministry regulations, the punishment should not exceed a
maximum of 6 strokes (the majority of canings range from 1-3
strokes), using a light rattan cane about 4 feet long, typically
administered to the seat of the student's
as he bends over a desk or chair. The student will
normally experience superficial bruises and weals for some days
after the punishment.
Certain schools have special practices for caning, such as making
the student change into PE attire for caning, or tucking a
protective item into the boy's trouser waistband to protect the
lower back from mis-strokes. Sometimes the student may be caned on
the stage in front of an assembly of the whole school population
(known as public caning) or in front of his class (known as class
caning), to serve as a warning to potential offenders and to shame
the student. In many cases he must also read out a public apology
before receiving the strokes. Some schools implement a demerit
points system, whereby students are liable for mandatory caning
after accumulating a certain number of demerit points for a wide
range of offences.
The majority of students caned are aged 14-16. The Ministry of
Education recommends that the student receive counselling
before and/or after his caning,
to avoid any danger of psychological harm.
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,
typically for behaviour deemed morally or socially unacceptable,
such as mischief, theft or defiance. A small rattan cane is used in
this case, which is usually available in grocery stores. 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
Sometimes parents use other implements such as a clothes hanger or
even the handle of a feather-duster. The misbehaving child is
usually whacked on the thighs, calves, buttocks or palms. Despite a
perception that the caning of children is widespread in Singapore,
a 2004 survey of 230 parents found that only about 20% of them used
this form of punishment.
Objections to corporal punishment
condemned the practice of judicial caning in Singapore as "cruel,
inhuman or degrading punishment". 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.
In Arts and Media
- Sān Gè Hăo Rén (One More
Chance; Simplified Chinese: 3个好人)
(2005) - 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
- Xiăo Hái Bù Bèn Èr (I
Not Stupid Too; Simplified Chinese: 小孩不笨2)
(2006) - 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. 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
- Shí Sān Biān (The Homecoming; Simplified Chinese： 十三鞭)
(2007) - 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) - 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.
- Singapore Criminal Procedure Code
- Immigration Act, s.15.
- Singapore Human Rights Practices 1994, US State
- Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for
2007, US State Department, released 11 March 2008.
- Prison Regulations 132(2).
- Criminal Procedure Code, § 229(4).
- "'No advance notice' for caning", Straits
Times, 4 May 1994.
- Criminal Procedure Code, § 231.
- Reuters, "Fay describes caning, seeing resulting scars",
Los Angeles Times, 26 June 1994.
- Viyajan, K.C. "Vandal
caned three strokes more than ordered", Straits Times,
30 June 2007.
- Viyajan, K.C. "Caning
error: Ex-inmate accepts mediated settlement", Straits
Times, 20 August 2008.
- Prisons Act (ch.247), sec.71, Singapore
- Teh Joo Lin. "New check on punishing prisoners", Straits
Times, 15 September 2008.
- Singapore: Caning in the military forces at World
Corporal Punishment Research (includes a photograph of a military
caning in progress)
- Straits Times, Singapore, 30 July 1975.
- Armed Forces Act 1972, cap.295.
- Speech by Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Acting Minister for
Education, 14 May 2004.
- Regulation No 88 under the Schools Regulation Act
- Lee Hui Chieh. "Most parents here don't cane kids, shows
study", Straits Times, 17 September 2004.
- Amnesty International Report 2008:
- Teo, Wendy. "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, 3 April 2007.
- Baratham, Gopal (1994). The caning of Michael Fay.
Singapore: KRP Publications. ISBN 9810057474
- Review of this book at World Corporal Punishment