Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee confirmed in Parliament today that the police will keep a “close eye” on dating platforms such as TheSugarBook and indicated that the police may take enforcement action under the Women’s Charter against website users who procure sexual services for payments.
Responding to questions by parliamentarians Seah Kian Peng and Tin Pei Ling, Lee revealed that enforcement action may extend against the website and its owners, as well.
Money-for-love online dating platforms like TheSugarBook link ‘sugar daddies’ or ‘sugar mummies’ who are willing to provide funds to ‘sugar babies’ – men or women who are showered with gifts in exchange for love, companionship, and sexual services.
Malaysian-based TheSugarBook, in particular, created a stir in Singapore and prompted discussion in parliament after it claimed that about 30,000 members of its 95,000-member network are in Singapore.
Speaking in Parliament, Lee condemned such websites as platforms that “commoditise and devalue relationships under the cover of a mutually beneficial arrangement”. He opined that relationships become transactional in such arrangements where money and gifts are provided in exchange for companionship and “other” services.
The Minister added that the greater concern is that the website targets young people in their late teens and early 20s, such as students at polytechnics or universities:
“Not only do such sites encourage them to demean their own sense of self-worth, they also expose them to the risk of being exploited and abused. These transactions are fundamentally imbalanced, in favour of older and wealthier people.”
While excoriating such relationships, Lee noted that a “right balance” must be struck between people having the freedom to make moral choices and the government acting as a regulator to curb such sites in a bid to protect the people from being at risk of exploitation or abuse.
The Minister also noted that simply blocking or banning the site may not be the most enduring way to protect the people, recalling the Media Development Authority (MDA) ban of extra-marital dating site Ashley Madison in 2013:
“MDA acted decisively to ban the site, because it explicitly advocated, through its portal, extramarital affairs and infidelity…That ran right up against our core values on protecting the family, so we acted decisively there.
“But the online realm is very broad, and there are many aspects that are very troubling. Blocking and banning every such site isn’t the most enduring way to protect Singaporeans from such risks.”
The Minister explained that while the people “collectively object” to such websites, the more effective and enduring solution would be to increase young people’s awareness of such dangers, so that they may be more discerning when navigating the internet.
This can be achieved at the school level and through parenting. Lee highlighted that students in MOE schools are taught to establish boundaries for personal safety, discern risks and exercise sound judgement when it comes to relationships and online activity. He added:
“At the same time, parents play a critical role in guiding their children and helping them to stay away from undesirable online content.
“At the end of the day, while we recognise that these websites undermine families and society, our best defence is for society, communities and our families to reinforce values that anchor us so that we do not succumb to such influences.”