“Do you really believe it’ll come to that? Christine said fifteen years, twenty four strokes.”

“I don’t really know for sure, buddy. She’s the lawyer. But sodomy, what they refer to as ‘sex against the nature of man’, does carry mandatory caning. Jail is bad enough but caning, that’s the dark ages, man.” The PI, a former CID officer added. “In the old days even hardened gangsters preferred a longer jail term to the rotan.” Gerard then proceeded to explain,

“The prisoner is usually stripped naked and tied to a frame with his legs and arms spread-eagled. They’ll prop him up in a standing position and bent slightly forward. Leather padding tied to the small of his back to prevent spinal injuries in the event the cane missed its mark; the strokes directed at the buttocks, after a doctor had certified the prisoner as fit. If the prisoner loses consciousness, they revive him and the caning continued, one session with no respite. Reportedly, the prisoners struggle violently during the first few strokes and melt into whimpers with each subsequent lash. Many empty their bladders. The prison authorities would have administered laxatives but this only served to weaken the victim.”

Gerard stopped. “Strange isn’t it, I just referred to the poor bugger as victim. The wardens who administer the caning are well-built. The skin usually splits on the very first stroke and –”

“Enough.” Edwin raised his hand. “I don’t want to hear anymore.”

(An Extract from my novel – Beck And Call, A Business Thriller Set In Singapore)

Rotan > Cane



  1. Excellent article. The way you’re able to deal with difficult issues and painful and heart-wrenching subjects continues to impress.

  2. First: what a horrifying description. Well done in the sense that it is very evocative.

    You comment about the lack of concern over this practice and how different one might feel if it involved themselves or someone they cared about. The lack of empathy in that response is startling, yet I think, all too predictable. The same could be said of many injustices and abuses in many societies.

    (Speaking as a US citizen, I know that much of the time we choose to look the other way unless something has a personal connection too us. I think that is possibly one of the negative aspects of human nature. It is certainly a frustrating one. But the default position is no action – it doesn’t even seem like a choice. We just don’t do anything and “wash our hands” of involvement. Some of this is laziness, some a lack of empathy, some a sense of overwhelmed helplessness … but I often wonder what it would take to prompt a response. I mean, how bad would something have to be to break us out of this lethargy?)

    1. Hello Kilroy,

      All of what you say is true – Some of this is laziness, some a lack of empathy, some a sense of overwhelmed helplessness – and speaking as a Singaporean, I like to add a couple more > most are mere whingers and others, simply cowards.

  3. It is so apropos that “Beck and Call”, with the setting in Singapore, has a section on caning, as this practice is definitely one of the salient features about this very progressive country.

    I remember when a 19 year old American student was caned in 1994 for vandalism. The incident definitely caused strained relations between the US and Singapore, and at the same time painted a picture of the strict discipline (moral and physical) expected of Singapore’s citizens and visitors. There were rumors that people got caned simply for chewing gum, as this was banned, for the purpose of keeping the streets immaculate. When my husband and I visited Singapore last year for a conference, we made sure we didn’t have even a single stick of chewing gum on us!

    1. Hello Dee,

      Yes, the Michael Fay incident is well documented and debated.

      Please allow me to redress some misconceptions:

      1. Chewing ‘chewing gum’ is not an offence – never was. Selling/retailing gum was/is. When the ban first surfaced, many people including yours truly, made it a point to purchase loads of gum when we travelled and brought these into the country. The customs officials had a good laugh. A kind of silent protest. The law was supported by a very – very – small group of dried up old men/women in government!

      2. Caning was never meted out to gum chewers or sellers.

      Please do bring in chewing gum for self consumption – what the heck – distribute them to your fellow conferencees, including the Singapore participants and especially the government officials 🙂

      Chicklets anyone?

      1. (Sigh of relief), thanks for clearing the misconceptions, Eric! Ok, will bring loads of gum next time, and will in fact dare to be chewing gum as I pass through customs! LOL! 😀

  4. I have mixed feelings about some of the punishments used around the world. Sometimes it can be effective in ensuring the one receiving the punishment doesn’t err again. However in most cases it does not change the individual’s disfunctional makeup, but rather makes them determined to find ways to be more secretive in future and cruely take it out on those unfortunate enough to get in their way. Dysfunctional criminals should be locked away so they cannot work their evil ways in society and there is a case in my mind for those who are consistently evil to forfeit their lives in the interests of society. Because the western world is so kind to criminals these days there has been an explosion of crime as those responsible expect a slap on the wrist and to be let go to further their evil interests.

    1. Your arguments are reasonable.

      The criminal/justice system must be seamless and just in every step > from investigation, arrest, prosecution, trial, punishment and rehabilitation. Unless a country has a flawless system and process, horrible unjustices can be committed and are committed daily in every jurisdiction, I reckon.

      I do not know of any country that has a flawless system or is actively fine tuning their processes with any urgency. It all boils down to Cost and Expedience, I reckon.

      So, ‘society’ (or is it the powers-that-be) buggers the “few” who fall through the cracks…there are some who flaunt a phrase for this > collateral damage.

  5. Eric, I forgot where I was for a moment. This spoke to all my senses. An expert you are! I’ve just learned something new too 🙂

    1. Thank you for your compliment.

      As an author, if I can evoke multiple senses in a reader – must be on the right track, I suppose.

      Caning > Most people in Singapore could not care less unless it affects them, I suppose. There are some who actively support caning > I wonder how it would be if a loved one is on the receiving end.

      1. True, it’s easy to turn a blind eye on issues that don’t seem to affect us directly…a very egocentric way to live, I think!

  6. Eric, you are really pulling us into this story ever-so vividly. I almost felt a cane stroke on my shoulders sitting here reading this! Very effective writing, fella!

    1. Thank you for the compliment.

      As for your question:

      Caning was part of a package of punishments for rapists and gangsters.

      It was employed to break the back of the Chinese triads in the 1950s through 1970s. Arguably, it did have an effect – though I am unconvinced as I believe there were other factors in play – such as unemployment and poverty that fed gangsterism.

      Over the years, caning has become a norm for other offences – including vandalism (recall the young American – Michael Faye) and even immigration offences. Over stayers receive a mandatory three strokes of the rotan – but, as far as I know, this is applied mostly to Asian overstayers and never to Caucasians. Yeah, equal before the law.

      I never believed in such barbarity and my answer is an emphatic NO!

      1. It is amazing that when some jurisdictions (in some Islamic countries) mete out lashings, many in Singapore cringe and lambast the practice – but it is happening in our own backyard and many of these very same people keep silent!

      1. No! But it sure helps people who uphold this system deal with their conscience and deflect responsibility, I reckon.

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