In Singapore law, anyone under the age of 18 is referred to as a minor. However, if the child were to commit a crime, there is a minimum age where the child can be held responsible for their actions. 

The Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility (MACR) in Singapore is 10 years. Therefore, as long as the child is above the age of 10, they will be liable for any criminal offence they may commit and if they are below 10, the child cannot be sentenced or found guilty.

When does a child attain maturity? 

If a child who has passed the minimum age commits an offence, it is then up to the court to decide – based on the facts of the situation, assessment of the child’s level of maturity, awareness of the severity and consequences of their actions – if the child can be held criminally responsible for the offence.

Did you know that in Singapore, words such as “conviction” and “sentence” can’t be used in cases involving children? This is to ensure that the child would not be stigmatised with a blemished record at such a young age.

What happens if a child is found guilty?

According to Sections 84A and 84B of the Children and Young Persons Act, If the child is found guilty of committing a crime by the Youth Court, no one will be allowed to broadcast or publish any information that could lead to the identity of the child such as their name, address or school. 

This is one reason why news media coverage of cases involving children tend to leave out names, whether they are the victims or otherwise, and there will also be no pictures published. For example, If a newspaper happens to publish or broadcast such information while reporting on a case involving a child as the offender, the court can order the newspaper to remove it immediately. Beyond that, the editor, publisher and distributor may all also be held liable for an offence of non-compliance which may lead to a fine.

Can a child get a criminal record?

We previously explained what a criminal record is and how it works. For children, it will depend on whether the offence was a registrable or non-registrable offence. For offences that fall under the First and Second Schedules of the Registration of Criminals Act such as murder, theft and trespass, the child may have a criminal record. However, minor offences like jaywalking or littering will likely not leave a criminal record.

If the child had committed an offence and was ordered by the Youth Court to undergo probation, detention or rehabilitation, then his/her criminal record related to that crime will expire once the court order ends. This is also possible if the child was sentenced in the High Court instead of the Youth Court and has gone five consecutive years without committing a crime, but this only applies if the initial crime was just a minor offence like littering or causing mischief.

Can children go to jail in Singapore?

In Singapore, children under the age of 14 will not be imprisoned for any sentence committed. If the child is between the ages of 14 and 16, and depending on the severity of the offence and the Youth Court’s decision, the child may be:

  • Sent to a juvenile rehabilitation centre for up to 3 years;

  • Sent to a reformative training centre, if between 14 to 16 years old, and has already been sent to a juvenile rehabilitation centre;

  • Detained in a place of detention for up to 6 months, eg. boys’ home;

  • Placed under probation for a period of 6 months to 3 years;

  • Required to perform up to 240 hours of community service.

While uncommon, it is still possible for a child to be imprisoned for an offence only in extreme circumstances where the child’s character or behaviour might justify imprisonment as a more appropriate measure than detention or juvenile rehabilitation. The Youth Court may also order the child, or the parent, to pay a fine or damages to ensure that the wrongful conduct committed is dealt with, besides assisting the child in rehabilitation. 

What if children commit serious crimes?

In the unfortunate circumstance where the child has been found guilty of committing a grave crime like murder, attempted murder or voluntarily causing grevous hurt, and the court determines that the abovementioned orders are all unsuitable, then the court may sentence the child to be detained.

The detention period will be determined by the court based on sentencing guidelines for that particular offence and at a place and on conditions that may be decided by the Minister for Social and Family Development.

However, regardless of the severity of the offence, no person below the age of 18 can be sentenced to death. If he/she commits an offence that would otherwise lead to the death penalty, the court will sentence him/her to life imprisonment instead.

Can parents get in trouble too because of their child?

There isn’t any law for parents to be held liable for their child’s actions, but if the child is between 14 to 16 years old, the Youth Court may decide, under section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA) that:

  • The parent will have to give security for the child’s good behaviour if he/she is charged with any offence; or

  • The parent will have to pay the damages or costs ordered on behalf of the child.

Some parents may not have realised this yet, but if a child’s act causes damage, the child can be sued in his or her own right, and that also means the parents can be liable for the child’s mistakes if the act was a result of the parents’ negligence.

To provide an example, a child is walking outside with his parent, and the parent has to answer a call and thus gets distracted. The child takes this chance to wreak havoc on something nearby, but ends up injuring an innocent third-party. In court, the parent can be sued and found liable for negligence for failing to exercise proper supervision over the child.

However, if the child is on his own outside of school while the parent is at work, and the child injures someone innocent, then only the child will be liable as the parent wasn’t physically present to stop the child.

If you are currently in a situation that requires mediation or legal advice involving a juvenile, it’s best to consult a lawyer who will be able to guide you through your options.

Engaging a Lawyer

Mr Amarjit Singh Sidhu of Amarjit Sidhu Law Corporation has represented numerous clients in a wide variety of matters over the years from traffic offences, high-profile criminal cases – to family and divorce matters. With a vast knowledge of Singapore’s laws and a wealth of experience, Mr Amarjit Singh Sidhu will be able to provide valuable and timely advice for your situation. For more information, feel free to contact us for a consultation.