Government 'collectively objects' to TheSugarBook as it undermines families

Wan Ting Koh
Reporter
Screen shot of TheSugarBook.com

The Ministry of Social and Family Development “collectively objects” to websites such as TheSugarBook (TSB) that “undermine families and societies”, and will keep a close eye on TSB and individuals who use it.

This was revealed by Minister of Social and Family Development Desmond Lee on Monday (5 February), who was speaking in Parliament on the sugar dating website, which helps to pair ‘sugar babies’ with ‘sugar daddies’ who are willing to pay for their upkeep in return for companionship. Sugar babies usually are young women, whereas sugar daddies are typically older men who are wealthy enough to who pay for their sugar babies’ lifestyles.

TSB, a Malaysian-based sugar dating website which is also available via an app, purports to let women and men “build mutually beneficial relationships on (their) terms”.

Lee, however, raised the possible dangers faced by women who turn to such websites, including physical abuse.

“Young women may feel pressurised to comply with their wishes or demands and risk physical or sexual harm if they’re rejected,” said Lee.

He added that the police will keep a close eye on the website, as well as the individuals who use its services.

“For instance, if there is any procurement of sexual services for payment, the police will take enforcement action under the Women’s Charter, including possibly against the website and its owner,” said Lee.

While it was important to regulate such websites, Lee said the more “effective and enduring solution” was to increase awareness among young people to the dangers of such websites so that they “exercise discretion and good judgment when navigating the online world”.

Students are taught to exercise sound judgment when surfing the internet and learn about safe and responsible use of technology, the minister said, adding that parents play a critical role in guiding their children.

“At the end of the day, while we recognise that these websites undermine families and societies, our best defence is for society, community and families to reinforce values that anchor us so that we do not succumb to such influences,” he said.

Members of Parliament (MP) Seah Kian Peng and Tin Pei Ling asked Lee about the legality of sites like TSB and if the ministry would be taking steps to address the possible harm and exploitation that young women using the site might face. MPs also asked if there were safeguards in place to protect teenagers and young persons from such platforms.

In a follow-up question, Seah asked if it was possible to strike a balance between the need of youths for freedom and regulation.

In reply, Lee cited the Ashley Madison site, a website which encourages married individuals to have affairs, adding that the authorities “acted decisively” to ban it.

He added, however, that blocking and banning all sites, no matter their subject, “isn’t the most enduring way in which to protect Singaporeans from such risks” and pointed to education as key.

Tin also asked if there were any efforts taken by the ministry to understand why teenagers turn to such websites to fuel their finances, to which Lee said the ministry would “continually study” the possible causes.

Citing a “mainstream teenage magazine”, which had featured TSB, Tin also asked if there was a concern that the magazine would create the wrong impression that TSB was a mainstream channel that teenagers can turn to.

In response, Lee said that the ministry needed to work with the private sector in relation to such websites, describing reaching out as an “ongoing conversation”.