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Government beefing up laws to deal with online sexual predators

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Minimum age for conviction of sexual grooming to be lowered from 21 to 18

As children go online at an increasingly younger age, the problem of online sexual grooming becomes more dire, and the Government has to respond by strengthening laws to deal with predators.

This includes lowering the minimum age, from 21 years to 18 years, required for someone to be convicted of sexual grooming, said Senior Minister of State for Law and Health Edwin Tong yesterday .

Speaking at the 4th Criminal Law Conference, Mr Tong focused on recent changes to criminal laws introduced by the Government.

Justice, he said, requires laws that reflect social values, respond to new trends in crime and balance the interests of the victim against fairness to the accused.

Noting the rise in communications technology, he said this has given sexual predators more opportunities to gain access to minors.

He cited the case of a 20-year-old man, Goh Kar Aip, who pleaded guilty to a series of sexual offences against 10 victims.

Goh used Instagram and Facebook to befriend girls aged 12 and 13, asked them for nude pictures and in some cases, met and sexually violated them.

Under existing law, only someone who is 21 or older can be convicted of sexual grooming.

Amendments to the Penal Code tabled in Parliament last month will lower the age requirement of the offender from 21 to 18.

Mr Tong said this would address situations in which perpetrators just shy of the age of 21 target children much younger than them.

Lowering the age requirement divided members of a committee tasked to review the Penal Code.

Some members were for the age requirement to be reduced while others felt the law should be targeted at adults and not "experimenting teenagers" sexting in the context of dating.