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Exit permit rule to apply from age 13 under new Bill
$2,000 fine proposed if boys go abroad for more than three months without permit
By Ken Kwek
SINGAPOREAN boys and permanent residents aged 13 and older will need an exit permit if they travel abroad for more than three months.
This lowering of the age limit for the permit was proposed in Parliament yesterday.
Currently, only those who are older than 16 1/2 need to get the exit permit from the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) when they want to go abroad beyond three months.
This change is one of two key changes in the Enlistment Act put before Parliament. The other is to double the maximum fine to $10,000 for those who dodge the draft, an increase prompted by the Melvyn Tan episode.
Dr Teo Ho Pin, a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Defence and Foreign Affairs, sees the exit permit change mainly as a reminder to those going for overseas study.
'It's to remind them that they have a duty to return to do national service,' Dr Teo, who is an MP for Holland-Bukit Panjang GRC, said last night.
So, families with young sons going on holidays abroad during a long weekend or the school holidays are not going to be affected by the change.
But those going abroad, say, on a student exchange programme that extends beyond three months or to study at a foreign institution will need to apply for an exit permit.
It can be done in person at Mindef's Central Manpower Base or on the Internet.
Those who fail to do so face a fine of up to $2,000. The same maximum fine will be imposed when the child remains outside Singapore for a period longer than that stated on the exit permit.
Each of the child's parents or legal guardians could also be fined up to $2,000.
Mr Sin Boon Ann, also a member of the GPC for Defence and Foreign Affairs, said the changes are 'timely and necessary'.
Said Mr Sin, an MP for Tampines GRC, last night: 'The Melvyn Tan episode highlighted the need to reinforce how seriously we regard national service.'
The Singapore-born pianist, now 49 and a British citizen, sparked a public outcry when he got a $3,000 fine last year for skipping national service.
He left Singapore to study music in Britain and did not return home for national service in 1977.
Last month, Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean told Parliament that stiffer punishments would be proposed against draft dodgers, including pressing for a jail term that is provided for under current legislation.
In explaining the new position, Mr Teo said the increased penalties are to send a strong signal that national service is critical to Singapore's survival.
About 700,000 Singapore men had served or are serving national service.
One of them is writer Ng Yi-Sheng, 25. He feels the changes are an overreaction.
'Increasing the punishment for draft-dodgers would make NS seem even more of a forced obligation,' he said.
However, Mr Kevin Loh, 29, who owns a cleaning company, disagrees. He favours the changes.
'National service is a key institution, and while those who are willing to serve have nothing to fear, it will be good to have a stronger deterrent for those who might want to escape their duty,' he said.
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