Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Lawmakers unconvinced age of consent should be raised

Published:Wednesday | May 10, 2017 | 5:00 AMJovan Johnson
Gordon Harrison
Chuck
Johnson Smith
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Lawmakers remain unconvinced about the merits of raising the age of consent from 16 to 18 years old and have told Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison to bring more evidence to support the position she has been advancing.

Harrison yesterday started her submissions before a parliamentary committee that is reviewing Jamaica's sex-offence laws. Though Jamaica's age of consent for sexual intercourse is 16, the age that persons are no longer considered children is 18.

"It may be credibly argued," Harrison told the committee, "that an anomaly is created when children who are 16 years are not considered intellectually or otherwise mature enough to make certain independent decisions such as who should govern their country for a five-year term, yet they are given the legal authority to engage in sexual activity.

But she explained that something else is tied to the proposal.

"It's really a conditional increase, because the focus of the recommendation is to ensure that girls and boys who are 16 years old but still children under our law can, in fact, access protection from the arm of the State. So, we're recommending that Section 10 of the Sexual Offences Act, which deals with the age of consent, include the close-in-age group exceptions," said Harrison.

Under that close-in-age proposal, underage children would not be criminalised for participating in what they deemed 'consensual' sex with another child in their age group. Though listing Turkey and Canada as examples with close-in-age exceptions in the law, the children's advocate said Jamaica would create its own preconditions and processes suited for the country's context.

 

'What's the magic in the age of 18?' asks minister

 

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, who chairs the committee made up of senators and members of parliament reviewing Jamaica's sex-offence laws, expressed concerns that the problems being faced by the authorities in enforcing the law could be multiplied with an increase in the age of consent.

"The age of consent is 16. There are many grandmothers in their 20s. The lowest age I've heard is 22. If we can't enforce the law with the age of consent at 16, we're going to have a major problem trying to enforce it at the age of 18," he pointed out. "I just don't know how we're going to manage."

"Is there any evidence that increasing the age of consent will assist with the issues that we're having?" Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Kamina Johnson Smith asked the committee yesterday. "I'm yet to read anything that says to me that there's something in the law that makes children decide they're going to have sex at 16."

"What is the magic in the age of 18?" she further asked, after voicing her support for the close-in-age suggestion that also won support from the Child Development Agency.

Opposition Member Sophia Frazer-Binns said a ramped-up public education campaign may help rather than raising the age of consent.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com