Gordon Robinson | An institution for the blind?
Jamaica is hopelessly out of whack when it comes to this vexed issue of child sex abuse.
"Under seventeen are you over sixteen?
Ah beg yu rock and come een
because a one general inna di yard."
Jamaican men publicly steer clear of flouting the law, but privately want their girlfriends as young as possible. The 'General inna di (tenement) yard' has first choice of resident girls as they come 'of age', by which it's understood they're capable, not necessarily legal.
"Every time she see mi, she want ice cream.
Hol' her pon ha r han' and she started to scream.
Arleen a mussi dream you deh dream!"
This cruel 'di-younger-di-betta' culture practised by an astonishing number of Jamaican men is encouraged by our laws. We persistently fail to see how our cock-eyed national structure often supports child abuse because we're too busy ensuring we don't offend the Church when passing legislation. Yet, for centuries, Church has been the most prolific child abuser.
The Marriage Act, Section 24, provides:
"Where a person under 18 years of age not being a widower or widow intends to marry, the father, or if the father is dead, the lawful guardian or guardians, or if there is no such guardian, the mother, if unmarried, of such person shall have authority to consent to the marriage of such person ... ."
Nope, your eyes aren't deceiving you. Underage sex is statutory rape, but underage marriage is cool once Daddy okays it (or insists on it at the point of a shotgun barrel). N.B:
- The act presumes Jamaica harbours underage widows and widowers;
- Unlike General Echo ("Under seventeen, are you over sixteen"), it places no lower limit on "under 18 years of age".
Jamaica seems cool with 'marriage', whether or not the couple has a clue what they're doing. It's said marriage is an institution and 'love' is blind, but underage marriage must be an institution for the blind.
Legally, nobody under 18 can form the necessary intent to enter contractual relations, but the MARRIAGE ACT ignores this. You see, in underage marriage, everybody (er, um, that is, everybody 'important') wins. Mommy/Daddy sweeps an embarrassment (teenage pregnancy?) under the marital carpet. The Church gains a fee and perhaps two new sheep. Society can bury its collective head in the sand and pretend boys and girls aren't engaging in EVERY sexual activity at 12 years and younger.
The act continues:
"If the parent or guardian whose consent is necessary is non compos mentis, or unreasonably withholds consent ... , either party to the intended marriage may refer the matter to a judge of the Supreme Court who shall decide upon the same in a summary way and if the proposed marriage appears upon examination to be proper, the judge shall certify the same ... ."
Words like 'unreasonably withholds consent' and 'appears ... to be proper' expose lawmakers' real attitude to underage sex. What parental refusal to consent to an underage marriage could ever be 'unreasonable'? In what universe could any underage marriage be 'proper'? Expedient, maybe, but never 'proper'?
Parents/guardians who encourage or cause the 'seduction or prostitution' of underage children can be divested of authority over the child by a judge (Sexual Offences Act, Section 12) but, under the Marriage Act, a judge can declare identical behaviour 'proper' at the instance of a child who, normally, would be legally incompetent to start proceedings in his/her name. Ugh.
With government's encour-agement, young girls are forced into accepting dual duties of wife and mother years before their maturity catches up. This is compounded by the religiously demanded criminalisation of abortion. Short-sighted parents see no other way out and terrified daughters have no recourse.
US studies reveal women who marry at 18 or younger (as early as 12):
- face 23 per cent higher risk of heart attack, diabetes, cancer and stroke than women marrying later, partly because early marriage can lead to added stress and forfeited education;
- are at increased risk of developing psychiatric disorders;
- are 50 per cent more likely than unmarried peers to be high-school dropouts and four times less likely to graduate from college;
- are 31 percentage points more likely to live in poverty when older; and
- are three times more likely to be objects of domestic violence than women married at 21 or older.
If we wanted to do the right thing, we could instantly abolish child marriage. But we won't offend the Church. However, we can and will continue flapping our gums about which orifice can be raped.
Peace and love.
- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.