Tue | Dec 6, 2016

Stop Criminalising Children for Having Sex

Published:Thursday | November 6, 2014 | 12:00 AM

It is appalling there are supposedly learned people in Jamaica who are convinced that increasing the age of consent from 16 to 18 will result in an increase in the age of sexual debut and reduce sexual activity among and with children.

Do we realise that children WILL still have sex even if the age of consent is 50, especially if we fail to teach comprehensive sex education? What will it take for us to appreciate that the law has no bearing on our sexual desires for exploration, pleasure, comfort or whatever reason we engage in sexual intercourse? Did we miss biology classes or something? What will it take for us to accept the law has little influence on us acting on our sexual desires?

I am deeply concerned about the fact that many of our children can have a criminal record for having sex with each other. No, I'm not mooting for them to become sexually active. I fully support the Voices for Equal Rights and Justice (VERJ) submission that "given our reality of the widespread consensual activity between minors, especially in a 'boyfriend-girlfriend' scenario, and given the general acknowledgement of 'the longer-term damage which can be done to a child because of an encounter with the criminal law early in his or her life'," that the close-in-age defence be considered to decriminalise consensual sex among children.

The last thing we want is to have thousands of our children coming in conflict with the law - an issue we have long accepted has a deleterious effect on our children, to the extent that we have begun piloting a Child Diversion Policy in some parishes.

PROJECTING INSECURITIES

Children know we aren't convinced that increasing the age of consent will do anything. They know we are only projecting our insecurities and morals on them. They are laughing at us because they know some of us were sexually active as teens, know a teen who was sexually active and might even be the child of a teen mom/dad. They are laughing at us for being ridiculous and dishonest.

Let us accept that people will be sexually active no matter the age of consent. I encourage those who are charged with responsibility to advocate for the protection of our children to appreciate that our efforts in this regard must be guided by data and good/best practices that are more efficacious in delaying sexual debut and protecting our children from sexual violence and abuse.

It is uncanny that groups and individuals such as the Love March Movement that set out and profess to advocate for the (greater) protection of our children are too often seemingly(?) more interested in orifices, homosexuality and sex for procreation, that they become blinded by their narrow-mindedness or perhaps wilfully ignore the gross inadequacies/omissions in the law which leave our children without protection and more vulnerable to sexual violence and abuse. One wonders why more of us aren't focused on the issue of sexual abuse of our boys and girls when between 2000 and 2012, there were, on average, 459 reported cases of carnal abuse per year.

Well, for those of us who are indeed interested in protecting our children, here are four additional aspects of the law, taken from VERJ's submission to the Joint Select Committee, we should consider speaking to our legislators about to protect our children:

1. The offences contained in Sections 8 - Sexual Touching or Interference, Section 9 - Sexual Grooming and Section 11 of the Sexual Offences Act should include all persons above the age of 16 years and not just persons over the age of 18.

2. The law should consider including as an offence where a person 'causes or incites a child to watch pornography or to watch sexual activity' to gratified sexually.

3. It should be an aggravating factor in handing down a sentence if a person in a position of trust or authority commits an offence against a person under the age of 18; and

4. 'For the offence of indecent assault, the Sexual Offences Act should expressly stipulate in what circumstances the offence should be tried in the Resident Magistrate's Court and in the Circuit Court', given that 'the range of sentences that are set out depend[s] on where the offence is tried.'

Let us commit ourselves to demolish the status quo and ensure that our laws fully protect our children from sexual violence and abuse. Let us also ensure that there will be justice when an offence is perpetrated against them and that there is an enabling environment to support them in every way.

n Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.