Mon | Sep 25, 2017

Jaevion Nelson | Don't touch age of consent

Published:Saturday | May 13, 2017 | 5:59 AMJaevion Nelson

Far too many people who are entrusted with the responsibility to ensure the care and protection of our children are wilfully ignorant about the realities they face and what actions are needed to facilitate their wholesome development.
Consequently, rather than relying on actual evidence-based solutions, they turn to their warped morals and values to guide their understanding and the solutions they proffer.
The Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA) is curiously among the band of people who have seemingly decided to wage a (holy?) war against sexual immorality, which some claim is prevalent in this country.
Earlier this week, the OCA continued its relentless pursuit to raise the age of consent from 16 to 18 years. What a frightening and equally ridiculous proposal? Have we forgotten how this would burden the justice system? Do we not appreciate the value of ‘culturally sensitive, age appropriate, life skills-based comprehensive sexuality education which also speaks to health promotion and development’ as an effective strategy? Whose side is the OCA on? That of the children or the moral crusaders who, by their actions, are not advocates for our children?
I was pleased to hear members of the joint select committee reviewing the Sexual Offences Act and other related legislation openly challenging the proposal from the Office of the Children’s Advocate during its sitting on May 9. Senators Kamina Johnson Smith (a long time sexual and reproductive health champion) and Sophia Frazer-Binns and committee chair Delroy Chuck must be commended for doing so, given the fact that politicians usually dodge these so-called sensitive issues and pander to the idiocy of a section of the church whose intent is to make Jamaica a theocracy.
Raising the age of consent from 16 to 18 years does not offer any greater protection to our children from sexual predators, nor does it discourage their consensual engagement in sexual activities. As Chuck pointed out, this would only result in more of our children being hauled before the courts. It’s unfathomable that the Office of the Children’s Advocate, knowing that so many children have been, and become, in conflict with the law for offences/matters that ought not to be criminal.

CRITICAL ENGAGEMENT NEEDED


I am aware that a close-in-age exemption was recommended, which would protect certain ages and categories of young people engaging in consensual sexual acts from the criminal-justice system. However, I think some questions I raised in this paper back in December 2013 would allow for a more critical engagement with the issue and the possible impact raising the age of consent would have.
‘Why should the age of consent be 16? Should it be increased to 18? What will a lower or a higher age of consent mean? Will increasing the age of consent have any effect on unplanned adolescent pregnancy, sexual debut, and the number of them having sex? Will it change the reasons teens engage in sexual intercourse? Will it discourage adults from having sex with children? Are there any negative implications to consider if we increase the age? Will it empower the authorities to prosecute more adults for statutory rape?’
As the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network (JYAN) reminds us in its 2014 submission to the joint select committee, “amendments to the various acts must be done after thorough consideration of whether these changes will be enforceable, applicable and relevant to Jamaican society; will have the effect of remedying social problems that it proposes to amend; and will enhance justice or efficiency.
“Additionally, it must be determined whether amendments will have the effect of enabling and promoting human rights or further hindering and restricting them.”
The age of consent should remain at 16 years. Let us not make it harder for our young people to access the critical services and commodities they are in dire need of to safeguard and protect their health and well-being. Commit to improving the support we offer to them and to ensure that every child gets comprehensive sex education.
Let’s focus on the “prevalence of cohabiting relationships between adolescent males and adult females, adolescent females and adult males, adolescent males and adult males, and adolescent females and adult females” and the vast number of children who are being forced to have sex.
Let’s do everything we can in our power to address the scourge of sexual violence and abuse against our children.
- Jaevion Nelson is an advocate for human rights and social and economic justice. Contact him at jaevion@gmail.com or Twitter at @jaevionn