In the digital world, accessing pornographic content is easier than ever. Although Singapore is known for its strict regulations, you might be surprised to hear that accessing pornographic sites and watching pornographic material is not illegal in Singapore.
However, while it may be legal to watch pornography, there are strict laws against possession, downloading pornographic content from the internet, or buying and selling pornographic material.
The Films Act, Undesirable Publication Act and the Penal Code make the creation, possession, distribution, or selling of pornographic material illegal.
This article will look at some of these laws governing the viewing, creating, possessing, and distributing pornographic material in Singapore.
What is pornography?
The dictionary defines pornography as “the depiction of sexual behaviour intended to cause sexual excitement”. It can be printed or visual material.
In Singapore, pornography falls under the laws that govern obscene material. So, whether the content was intended to cause sexual excitement is not a requirement. If the content can corrupt the viewers’ minds, it is restricted.
Is it legal to watch pornography?
It is not illegal in Singapore for adults to access and view pornographic content privately.
However, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) can and has blocked or restricted almost 100 porn websites. They also filter content to check for obscene material that can harm the public good. This is generally regarded as an indication that the government does not condone viewing pornographic content.
It should be noted the situation is different concerning child pornography. Gaining access to and viewing child pornography is illegal under section 377BK of the Penal Code. If you are convicted of an offence under sec 377BK, you can be sentenced to up to five years imprisonment and a fine or caning, or any combination thereof.
Section 377BD also makes it an offence to gain access to voyeuristic or intimate images or recordings.
Now, while viewing pornography is legal, downloading, producing, possessing, importing, selling, or distributing obscene material is not.
What are the laws and offences relating to pornography?
The Film Act
These sections all apply to both physical and digital pornographic material. Under section 29 of the Films Act, anyone who makes or reproduces any obscene film, knowing or having reasonable cause to believe the film is obscene, is guilty of an offence.
If convicted, the person can be liable to a maximum fine of S$40,000, imprisonment to a maximum of two years, or both.
Section 29 is mainly aimed at those who want to make a profit from obscene films, but it also applies if you post or send an obscene video or photo through social media or WhatsApp to a friend.
The same applies to anyone who imports, distributes, exhibits, or possesses to distribute or exhibit to another person an obscene film.
If convicted of importing an obscene film, the penalty can also be a maximum fine of S$40,000, imprisonment of a maximum of twelve months, or both.
If convicted of distributing obscene films or possession for distribution, the penalty can be a fine not exceeding S$80,000, imprisonment not exceeding two years, or both.
The penalty for exhibiting or possessing to exhibit obscene films to another person is a maximum fine of S$40,000, or imprisonment not exceeding two years.
Possession of an obscene film is also an offence under section 30(1) of the Films Act. If convicted of being in possession of an obscene film, the penalty can be a maximum fine of S$20,000 or imprisonment of up to six months, or both.
You can be guilty of the offence, even if you didn’t know that it is an obscene film.
If you know or have reason to believe the film is obscene, the penalty can be a fine up to S$40,000, a maximum of 12 months imprisonment, or both.
For most of these offences, the penalty can almost double in case of a second or subsequent offence.
Section 30 applies to physical or digital videos or photos on any device or storage device.
Severity of penalties
The usual penalty if you are found in possession of an obscene film for personal viewing is a fine. The severity of the penalty will depend on how many obscene films are found in your possession and whether you are a first-time offender.
The severity of the penalty can change considerably if the material in your possession involves videos or images obtained by violating someone else’s privacy. For example, recording girls in a bathroom or taking upskirt pictures (voyeurism) in public, etc.
The same applies if you are in possession of obscene films for commercial purposes. The courts are far more likely to impose imprisonment.
The Penal Code
The Penal Code creates several offences concerning pornographic material.
Section 377BD makes possession of a voyeuristic image or recording an offence if the person knew or had reason to believe that the content was obtained or distributed without the person’s consent.
If convicted, the person can face imprisonment of up to two years, a fine, or both.
If the image or recording involves a person younger than 14 years old, the penalty is up to two years imprisonment, and a fine or caning. Imprisonment, in this case, is compulsory.
Voyeurism itself is also an offence under section 377BB of the Panel Code.
Voyeurism involves observing and/or making a recording of someone doing a private act, and you know the person does not consent to being observed or the act being recorded.
It includes recording an image of a person’s genital area, female breasts, or buttocks in circumstances where those areas would not otherwise be visible. And you know or have reason to believe the other person is not consenting to the recording.
If convicted of voyeurism, the penalty can be imprisonment up to 2 years, or a fine, or caning, or any combination of those three.
If the victim is younger than 14, imprisonment of up to two years is compulsory, and you could be liable for a fine or caning.
Distributing voyeuristic material is also an offence under section 377BC of the Penal Code. You can be imprisoned for up to 5 years, fined, caned, or any combination thereof.
If the subject of the voyeuristic content is younger than 14 years old, the penalty is up to five years imprisonment and a fine or caning. Imprisonment, in this case, is compulsory.
Section 292 and 293 of the Penal Code makes it an offence to distribute, exhibit, sell, import, transmit, or advertise any obscene object or publication. It includes doing any of the mentioned acts electronically, for example, posting nude pictures or videos online.
The penalty, if convicted, could include imprisonment of up to 3 months and/or a fine. If the person depicted in the image is under the age of 16 years, the penalty is imprisonment for a maximum of 2 years, a fine, or both.
If the obscene material is sold or distributed to a person under the age of 21 years old, the penalty is compulsory imprisonment of up to one year or a fine or both.
What if I am the subject of my pornographic material?
This is referred to as sexual exposure under sec 377BF of the Penal Code. It refers to a situation where a person intentionally exposes their genitals either for sexual gratification or to cause another person humiliation, alarm, or distress. In digital form, it is called cyber-flashing.
It is a criminal offence to share such images without the recipient’s consent. If convicted, the person can be imprisoned for up to one year, fined, or both.
If the image was sent to someone younger than 14, imprisonment of up to two years is compulsory, and you will be fined or caned.
What happens if I show pornographic material to minors?
If you show pornography to anyone under sixteen years old for sexual gratification or to cause minor humiliation, alarm, or distress, it is an offence under section 376ED of the Penal Code.
If convicted, you will face a penalty of up to two years in prison, a fine, or both.
If the victim is under 14 years old, the penalty can extend to three years imprisonment or a fine, or both.
In addition to the Films Act and the Penal Code, a person can also face penalties for pornography under the Undesirable Publications Act.
The Undesirable Publications Act
Section 11 of the Undesirable Publications Act makes it an offence to:
- Make or reproduce, or make or reproduce for the purposes of sale, supply, exhibition, or distribution to any other person.
- Import or possess for the purposes of sale, supply, exhibition, or distribution to any other person.
- Sell, offer for sale, supply, offer to supply, exhibit, distribute to any other person.
Any obscene publication such as magazines, photos, pamphlets, knowing or having reasonable cause to believe the publication is obscene.
If convicted, you can be liable to a maximum fine of S$10,000 or imprisonment up to two years, or both.
Watching pornography is not illegal in Singapore.
However, making, distributing, importing, selling, advertising and even possessing and downloading any form of pornographic content is illegal and subject to penalties under various Acts.
If you face a charge relating to pornography, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible. Pornography is a sensitive and complex area of the law. You need to understand the law, your rights, and the potential penalties you could face if convicted.
An experienced lawyer can help you navigate the law and decide on the best strategy for your case.