In an interview before his arrest, Sugarbook’s founder Chan Eu Boon said the site had almost 13,000 registered students across 10 schools in Malaysia, and described the arrangement as a “great help to struggling university students”.
The site, which is hosted in the United States, waives the US$12.95 (RM55) a month “premium” membership to those who register with an e-mail address from an education institution.
Students who show proof of enrolment will be able to talk to “premium” sugar daddies, who pay US$79.95 (RM338) to get their profiles featured more extensively on the site.
It is unclear how many students in Singapore are using the site.
Prior to signing up, users are required to state that they are above 18 years old. However, verification is not needed.
Speaking about the student-membership drive, psychologist Annabelle Chow said: “What raises the proverbial eyebrow is the intentional targeting of young women of school-going age.
“There may also be some legal implications to this, especially when the legal age to have sex in Singapore is 16. There may be girls younger than that using the website.”
She added that a young person of that age could be very susceptible to the lures of high rewards in exchange for company and attention.
“It is also worrying because some parents may not even know that their daughters are using the website,” said Dr Chow.
In Singapore, even though it is legal for those 16 and above to give consent for sex, the act of having commercial sex with those under the age of 18 is illegal.
Lawyer Shashi Nathan, who heads the criminal litigation practice at law firm Withers KhattarWong, said: “It is naive for people to think that commercial sex only involves cash. The nature of the term commercial sex is wide enough to include gifts such as luxury bags and even holidays.”
He noted that the policy is put in place to protect young girls.
“I believe the courts will take a wide definition of ‘commercial transaction’ when the gifts provided were meant to induce or secure sex,” he added.
On its website, Sugarbook said it does not condone adult content, escorts, prostitution or any form of fraudulent activities. It added that those violating these terms will be banned.
But when The Straits Times created an account on Sugarbook and posed as a sugar baby using an artificial intelligence-generated photo, messages quickly came in from sugar daddies offering a paid meet-up that involved intimacy.
Of the 24 sugar daddies that reached out to the account, 13 asked to meet within the first message.
One profile even listed out how much he was willing to pay for various acts. He offered S$2,000 (RM6,160) for sex and S$500 (RM1,540) for hugging and kissing.
The others introduced themselves by stating their names and ages, with more than half of these profiles requesting that the conversation continue on messaging app Telegram.
There is no option for photos to be sent via the messaging platform on Sugarbook.
Of those who sent messages, 16 sugar daddies had uploaded a profile photo, while the eight others left their profile photos blank.
It is unknown if the photos posted are genuine and if the names they provided are real.
Christina Lee, who has two daughters aged 16 and 20, said it is worrying that such sites exist.
The human resource manager, who is in her 40s, said: “As a mother to two daughters, this is definitely an area of concern.
“But I also believe that as parents, we need to trust that our children know how to discern right from wrong.”
She added that putting in password controls is a temporary measure because young people are tech-savvy and may find ways around it.
“That’s why communication and trust between parents and their children are really important,” said Lee. — The Straits Times/ANN