Thursday, 16 January 2014

Animal abusers to face tougher penalties

Longer jail terms, heavier fines will boost deterrence: Shanmugam
By Audrey Tan, The Straits Times, 15 Jan 2014

STIFFER fines and longer jail terms will be dished out to animal abusers, revealed Law and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday.

These enhanced penalties will send a strong deterrent message, he explained at the opening ceremony of the Asia for Animals Conference.

Currently, those convicted of animal cruelty under the Animals and Birds Act can be fined up to $10,000, jailed for up to a year, or both.

But under recommendations made by the Animal Welfare Legislation Review Committee and accepted by the National Development Ministry, the maximum penalty could increase to a top fine of $50,000, a jail term of up to three years, or both for repeat offenders.

Animal abusers could also be banned from keeping animals for up to one year.

The minister told reporters that legislation would go through this year.

The chief executive of animal welfare group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES), Mr Louis Ng, also said that a Bill will be introduced in Parliament this year.

Mr Shanmugam, who is a known animal welfare advocate, added that education will be another key focus. He said this is because "substantive change" can be achieved only if legislation is accompanied by education.

In his speech, he welcomed the Education Ministry's move to include the importance of animal welfare in the school curriculum.

"The next generation is growing up knowing the importance of animal welfare," he told reporters at the sidelines of the event.

Founder of animal welfare group Animal Lovers League Cathy Strong said that while the measures are commendable, they have to be strictly enforced in order to achieve their purpose.

"Even under existing laws, I've never seen anyone fined $10,000, even for the worst cases of animal cruelty like throwing a cat out of the window," she said. "The fine should not just be a mere slap on the wrist."

The five-day Asia for Animals Conference, which is hosted by ACRES, kicked off on Monday at the Furama RiverFront Hotel. About 320 delegates from more than 30 countries are attending.

This is the third time Singapore is hosting the biennial event since it was started in 2001 by the Asia for Animals Coalition, a group of 14 animal welfare organisations worldwide which focuses on animals in Asia.

Six working groups during the event will discuss issues such as animal testing, stray-dog management and the wildlife trade.

Said a delegate from the Wildlife Conservation Society, Ms Ng Bee Choo: "The event would allow us to approach regional delegates from places like Hong Kong and India with the same experiences in issues, such as wildlife trade, for discussion and exchange."

10-year-old Megan Tan's speech on animal rights gets netizens talking
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 16 Jan 2014

Five years ago, Megan Tan watched a documentary depicting the cruel treatment of animals kept in cages and killed for the commercial value of their skin. The gruesome video sparked her interest in taking a stand against animal abuse.

On Tuesday, the 10-year-old girl took a significant step in her activism by delivering the keynote address at the Asia for Animals Conference in front of an international audience and Law and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam.

The Maha Bodhi School pupil spoke about her love for animals, noting that they "are also an important part of our ecosystem".

"For instance, we won’t have any fruits to eat if not for the honeybees and the bats that pollinate fruit trees. And although vultures look like filthy birds, they help eat carcasses and keep the environment clean," she said.

She also shared about her project to raise funds for the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) by selling notebooks with animal-themed covers designed by herself.

"I may only be 10 years old, but I have decided that I can make a difference too."

In a Facebook post on Tuesday evening, Mr Shanmugam said he was very impressed with Megan’s speech and shared the full text of her keynote, adding that she had written the speech herself.

"I was told that Megan is a very shy girl. Thus it must have been difficult for her to stand in front of an international audience and give a speech. But she decided to make the speech because of her deep care and concern for animals," he said.

The minister also noted that ACRES lowered the minimum age of its volunteers to accept Megan as a volunteer.

Mr Shanmugam's Facebook post has been a hit with netizens, garnering over 1,680 "likes", almost 800 "shares", and more than 120 comments mostly singing the praises of Megan as of Thursday morning.

Facebook user Tina Hee said in her comment: "I love the guts, the compassion and the passion of this young girl. Thank you for sharing this!"

Another Facebook user Shalini Carnis said: "She's blessed with best parents who support her passion and dream. We adults have lots to learn from the upcoming generation!"

Young animal lover inspires with heartfelt speech
By Lee Jian Xuan, The Straits Times, 20 Jan 2014

WHEN she was five, Megan Tan watched a documentary on how animals were skinned to make clothes, shoes and bags. She was so upset that she drew a picture of the fashion items along with the message "Please do not use animal skins to make things like these" and stuck it on the door of her bedroom.

Last Tuesday, despite her fear of public speaking, Megan, now 10 years old, made a simple and heartfelt speech to 320 delegates at the Asia for Animals conference which won her praise from animal lovers and netizens alike.

"It must have been difficult for her to stand in front of an international audience and give a speech. But she decided to, because of her deep care and concern for animals... Well done, Megan!" wrote Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, an animal welfare advocate, who has shared her speech on his Facebook site.

The post has already got more than 2,100 "likes".

The Primary5 pupil from Maha Bodhi School is the youngest volunteer at Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), the organiser of the five- day event. It ended last Friday.

It was the organisation's founder Louis Ng who asked Megan to be the keynote speaker after being impressed by her passion for animal welfare.

"Even though we depend so much on them, many animals are treated unfairly. When they get abused, they cannot defend themselves or tell us how they feel. So I think it is up to us to speak up for them," she told the delegates during her 10-minute-long speech.

She also revealed how she has designed four animal-themed covers for A'zone notebooks made with recycled paper.

"I hope my art can inspire people to be more considerate to our animal friends," she said, adding that all proceeds from notebooks sold would be donated to Acres.

Mr Ng said: "She designed them, printed them out and passed them to us. We often talk about inculcating compassion and raising leaders... I think we have succeeded with Megan."

Megan has two siblings. Her parents, secondary school teachers Kayne Tan, 38, and Jo Tan, 36, told The Straits Times: "Megan was so quiet in Primary1 that she almost failed her oral exam. Once, she came home in tears because she was asked to give a presentation in class.

"When asked to give the speech she was hesitant at first. However, she found her courage because she was inspired by Louis' unwavering commitment."

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