Speaking in Parliament on Monday (Feb 5), he also stressed that blocking or banning every such site is not the most enduring way to protect Singaporeans from such risks.
The police will keep a “close eye” on dating platforms such as TheSugarBook, as well as those who use its services, said Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee in Parliament on Monday (Feb 5).
Responding to questions from MPs Seah Kian Peng and Tin Pei Ling, Mr Lee also stressed that should there be 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 owners.
Money-for-love online dating platform TheSugarBook claims to have about 30,000 members in Singapore.
In his response, Mr Lee said that such platforms “commoditise and devalue relationships under the cover of a mutually beneficial arrangement”. Relationships, he said, become transactional, where money and gifts are exchanged for companionship and “other” services.
The greater concern, however, is that the site targets young people in their late teens and early 20s, even while they are still students at polytechnics or universities, he added.
“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,” he said. “These transactions are fundamentally imbalanced, in favour of older and wealthier people.”
Nonetheless, there is the need to strike the “right balance” between giving people the freedom to make moral choices, and protecting them by acting as a regulator to curb such sites, Mr Lee said in response to a supplementary question.
He highlighted the example of extra-marital dating site Ashley Madison, which the then-Media Development Authority (MDA) banned in Singapore 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,” he explained.
“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.”
Mr Lee also pointed out in his response that while we “collectively object” to such websites, the more effective and enduring solution lies in increasing the awareness of young people to such dangers, so they can exercise discretion and good judgement when navigating the online world.
To that end, he said, students in MOE schools are taught to establish boundaries for personal safety, discern risks and exercise sound judgement when going onto online platforms and managing relationships, both online and offline. “At the same time, parents play a critical role in guiding their children and helping them to stay away from undesirable online content,” he added.
“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.”