What should the age of consent be?
As we approach the celebration of National Youth Month, it is quite fitting that many of the critical issues affecting the youth in our country become the focus of our attention.
The age of consent is one such issue, which is not easy to discuss, especially if you do not have the facts at your fingertips.
In this article, I will highlight some of the legislative provisions that impact on the debate:
1. Under Section 3 of the Marriage Act, a marriage will be void if either party to that marriage is under 16 years of age. Curiously, Section 24 of that Act also states that any person who is under 18 years of age must receive parental consent to marry. If the parents withhold consent, a judge of the Supreme Court could permit the parties to marry, and even if no consent is obtained at all, the marriage will still be valid. The only problem is that the person who fails to obtain consent could forfeit rights to property.
2. Under the Sexual Offences Act, 'adult' means a person of or over the age of 18 years and 'child' means a person under the age of 18 years.
3. Section 10 of the Sexual Offences Act makes it a criminal offence for a person to attempt or to actually have sexual intercourse with any person who is under 16 years of age. A person who is guilty of such an offence may be liable to a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison or a maximum term of life in prison.
4. Under the Maintenance Act, a minor is any person who is under 18 years of age. That minor, as long as he or she remains unmarried, is entitled to claim maintenance from his or her parents.
5. Pursuant to the Representation of the People Act, a citizen of Jamaica must be at least 18 years of age to be registered to vote in elections.
While there are still other relevant statutes to consider, it is clear that although you are entitled to marry at 16, you are still considered a minor, and could claim maintenance from your parents, but you could not be a registered voter.
The fact is that there are many anomalies in our laws, but any proposed changes should only be made after very careful thought is given to the question as to the current demands of our society.