Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Higher consent age won't lead to more unprotected sex - Advocate

Published:Thursday | June 1, 2017 | 6:00 AMJovan Johnson
Diahann Gordon Harrison

Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison is dismissing concerns that the number of children having unprotected sex would rise if the Parliament accepts her recommendation to increase the age of consent from 16 to 18 years old.

The Jamaica Family Planning Association last week told a parliamentary committee reviewing the Sex Offences Act that it was against the increase for reasons including the fear that unsafe sexual activities would rise among underage children.

But Gordon Harrison said that that view can be "countered". "If we raise the age of consent to 18 years and include in the Sexual Offences Act a proviso that recognises the need for medical practitioners to treat children who are vulnerable because they are having sex, then it should satisfy the Family Planning Association and other like-minded persons," she told The Gleaner.

Mark Golding said, though, that because of the threat of prosecution, the law could also be changed to make it clear what medical professionals could do.

The association's concerns are similar to those of some legislators on the committee who raised issues about whether increasing the age would be putting in place bad policy in light of the current issues being faced by the authorities to enforce the current law.

 

Setting ourselves up for failure

 

"To what extent can the law bring about changes that we require? The problem I'm having is that if the laws have not done so in relation to the age of consent at 16, when we move it to 18, why do we feel that we are going to succeed? Are we not setting up ourselves more for failure rather than success?" Delroy Chuck, the chairman, queried.

There are no immediate data on the number of children engaged in unprotected sex, but for the period 2008-2012, the number of births to teens age 17 years and under was 14,356, health ministry data have revealed.

Subset of 16-, 17-year-olds being exploited

Diahann Gordon Harrison, the Children's Advocate, said that an increase in the age of consent was not expected to "necessarily" lead to a decrease in cases of early sexual debut or teenage pregnancy, which, she added, could be better addressed through a public health approach.

"We have to do that, but we can't rely on that alone. There is still a subset of 16- and 17-year-olds who are being exploited, and we need to have persons held accountable. So it won't necessarily decrease the instances, but it certainly will give us an avenue through which to hold these persons accountable," she responded. "The aim is to stop sexual predators, not necessarily to lower the global figures of child sexual abuse."

Police data for the period 2014-2016 show that there were 1,183 child victims of sexual intercourse with persons under 16. Three hundred and nine perpetrators were between the ages of 25 and 79.

The data, according to the children's advocate, who produced it, did not account for the ages of the other 43 perpetrators.

Gordon Harrison maintained her call that close-in-age exceptions should accompany the increase in the age of consent to prevent the criminalisation of teenagers who have sex with other teenagers.

She pointed to the police statistics, which show that the 15-19 years age cohort accounted for the highest number of arrests when compared to the other age groups.

According to the advocate, the Jamaican Government can follow the example of Trinidad and Tobago, which included in its Children's Act 2012 age bands that allow for the decriminalisation of sexual activity between children under certain circumstances.

Trinidad and Tobago is among 36 countries with 18 as the age of consent. Eleven states in the United States also have 18 as their age of consent.