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Raising the age of consent not the answer

Published:Thursday | June 25, 2015 | 6:00 AMJaevion Nelson, Contributor

It appears a great many of us missed critical biology lessons or opted to do so at Sunday school. I have concluded that can be the only explanation for our belief that raising the age of consent from 16 to 18 years, as it currently exists in Section 10 of the Sexual Offences Act, would reduce sexual intercourse among children and child sexual abuse.

One hopes that our leaders and other virtuous persons who believe that raising the age of consent will be efficacious accept that it will have no bearing whatsoever on children's hormones.

It is a fallacy that raising the age of consent will result in the following:

- Children feeling less pressured to have sex and there would be more effective means of controlling sexual behaviour among children and youth;

- Legislative cohesiveness, as the alleged anomaly of having the age of majority and the right to vote being at 18 years and the age at which a child can consent to sexual relations being 16 years would be solved for more legal uniformity;

- Make it easier to protect children from predatory behaviour; and

- Reduce the prevalence of teenage pregnancy.

The Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network - a youth-led organisation championing rights-based approaches to addressing some of the dire challenges faced by our children and youth - recommends in its submission to the Joint Select Committee discussing the matter that the age of sexual consent remain at 16 years.

We ought to be careful about the negative impact this ludicrous idea of raising the age of consent can have on our children. Increasing the age of consent would further complicate and burden the criminal justice system. Dragging children who engage in sexual relations through our less-than-perfect justice system will leave them disillusioned to the legal process and may have long-term effects on their development.

It has been proven that the most effective tools to stem issues relating to children engaging in unsafe sexual practices is through providing access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information, services and commodities. Young people are rights holders and the intention of duty-bearing stakeholders in youth is not merely to control youth sexual behaviour, but to protect, empower them and educate them to make responsible sexual decisions, whether that is to delay sexual initiation and abstain or to engage in safe, consensual sex.

help youth make responsible decisions

The Jamaican Guidelines For Comprehensive Sexuality Education aims at helping young people make responsible decisions based on their values, strengthen communication, decision-making, assertive-ness, and risk-reduction skills, and provide them with factual, age-appropriate, and culturally sensitive sexuality information that helps them emerge as sexually healthy adults. In an even broader sense, it seeks to reduce unintended pregnancy; decrease STIs, including HIV; and improve sexual and reproductive health among young people.

Emphasis must be placed on the importance of culturally sensitive, age-appropriate life skills, comprehensive sexual education, which also speaks to health promotion and development which is appropriately taught to all learners across the life cycle, across all educational institutions and in places of safety. It should be acknowledged that forcing children through the court system to scare them into conformity and to abstain is a poor and unsustainable method of delaying sexual initiation or promoting healthy and responsible sexual decisions.

It is impossible to see how raising the age of consent will prevent older persons from engaging in sexual relationships with children and young people, whether through coercion or consent. More efforts need to be put into the creation and strengthening of systems which handle prosecution of violators and the treatment and assistance provided to children who are victims.

Changes must be made to the length of time it takes to prosecute offenders, the sentencing procedures, the monitoring procedures for accused persons who are granted bail and effective enforcement of protective orders, the treatment of victims by those who are tasked with protecting them or managing their cases, and the provision of other case management services. More important, the challenges that prevent children from coming forward to report these incidents of abuse must also be addressed. Similarly, public education campaigns are needed to encourage persons to report crimes. Data from the Office of the Children's Registry suggest that many adult Jamaicans who are aware of cases of abuse report that they would not come forward to make a report.

Let us pay attention to the rights and needs of our children and youth and not find ways to entrench our warped morals that will further harm our children.

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