Wikipedia is perhaps the grandest and most ambitious example of intellectual collaboration – online or off – to date.  Our assignment this week is to become part of this revolution by editing a wiki.

I have previously made minor edits on Wikipedia anonymously, but as of last week, I am officially a Wikipedian! My username is AyamGoreng!

The wiki I plan to edit is [Caning in Singapore].  While the current article is fairly comprehensive, I think that the summary and section on judicial caning could be improved to provide a clearer, more objective and detailed picture of the topic.

The issue of judicial caning is one of those subjects that border on the “clash of civilizations” debate i.e. Asian values (the good of the general community) vs Western liberalism (the rights of the individual) i.e. the tyranny of the majority (of law-abiding citizens) over the individual (criminal who is being caned).  There are online articles denouncing caning as archaic and barbaric; many consider this practice as a human rights violation and call for its abolition.

[Note: My personal view is that judicial caning as practiced in Singapore is not an issue of human rights.  It is done in the presence of a doctor, whose role is to ensure there are no permanent injuries.  The question is simply whether it serves as an effective means of rehabilitation and deterrence.  But I will save this debate for a later post.]

At the same time, there is clearly some support for judicial caning.  When 18-year-old American Michael Fay was sentenced to jail and caning in Singapore following his conviction on vandalism charges in 1993, there were polls in the US that actually showed a majority of Americans supporting Fay’s punishment.

The Caning in Singapore wiki is largely factual and objective, but it could benefit from references to the Singapore Parliamentary debates, as well as press releases from Singapore’s Home Affairs ministry (which oversees law and order issues).  It is possible that earlier contributors have chosen to dismiss/avoid these official sources as national propaganda, but it should be noted that several other sources cited – like Amnesty International and the UN High Commission on Human Rights – likewise have their own agenda.

The fact is that while the government may have its bias (e.g. to downplay accusations of human rights violations), it cannot afford to publish untruths as its credibility would be at stake.  As such, parliamentary debates and government press releases/speeches provide a rich trove of data that should not be summarily excluded.  I would use the following publicly-accessible sources to add to the wiki:

http://www.parliament.gov.sg/parlweb/hansard_search_latest.jsp

http://www.mha.gov.sg/archives.aspx

Separately, while the article generally adheres to Wikipedia’s MOS, I also have some ideas on how readability could be improved.  I think the Wiki could also do with a few pictures.  I found a picture titled “Judicial caning in Singapore” here but am not certain if it is indeed a bona fide picture or if there are copyright issues involved.

I propose to rewrite the summary as follows:

Original (as of 12 Oct 2010):

Caning is a widely used form of legal corporal punishment in Singapore. It can be sub-divided into several contexts – domestic/private, school, reform school, military and judicial.

Of these, judicial caning, for which Singapore is best known, is the most severe. It is reserved for male criminals aged under 50, for at least 30 different offences under the Criminal Procedure Code. Caning is a legal form of punishment for delinquent male members of the military (Singapore Armed Forces — SAF) and this is administered in the SAF Detention Barracks. Caning is also an official punishment in reform schools and as a prison disciplinary measure. In a milder form, caning is used to punish male youths in many Singaporean schools for serious misbehaviour.

A much smaller cane or other implement is also used by some parents as punishment for their children of either sex. This is not outlawed in Singapore.

Proposed:

In the context of Singapore’s law and order, caning usually refers to the strokes of a rotan whip that male criminals between 18 and 50 may receive in addition to prison sentences.  Under the Criminal Procedure Code, the courts may impose caning for at least 30 different offenses; in fact, for several offences – including murder, rape, robbery and drug trafficking – caning is a mandatory part of the punishment.  Younger offenders (between 16 and 18) would receive a milder version of the punishment.

Variations of corporal punishment also used as a punishment for serious misbehavior or delinquency in the prisons and military, as well as a disciplinary measure in schools and other schools.  In private, some parents use a much lighter cane to discipline their young children; this is not illegal in Singapore.

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