'Stop making criminals of the boys' - Children's advocate wants law changed to help schoolboys who become fathers
Children's advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison is hopeful that come next year, parliamentarians will find favour with legislation that decriminalises teenagers below the age of consent, 16, having sex with their peers.
While making it clear that she was not advocating that these children should be involved in any sexual interaction, Gordon Harrison bemoaned the repercussions of incarcerating teenage boys, who, during early experimentation with sex, impregnate their teenage girlfriends.
She said while these teenagers must be encouraged not to have sex and educated to be responsible in any sexual activity, it would better suit the society if these teen fathers are offered the counsel and the help they need to become responsible fathers.
"It doesn't speak to it at all. It generally speaks to having sex with a minor, but not this situation," explained Gordon Harrison, in reference to the Child Care and Protection Act and its provisions regarding teenage boys who impregnate teenage girls.
The children's advocate noted that instead of locking up the youngsters for carnal abuse, over the past two years, there has been a move to divert these matters outside of the criminal courts and into the hands of counsellors at the Women's Centre.
"There is a government approach now through the Women's Centre that provides support to boys who find themselves in these situations," said Harrison.
"It's a pilot programme that involves the director of public prosecution's office which looks for the ones that we would withdraw the matter, and the court, meaning the judge who is aware of the policy, would divert the matter out of court, so that it can go to the Women's Centre."
Once enrolled in the programme, said Gordon Harrison, the young boys are exposed to sexual responsibility training, parenting guidelines, and are also encouraged to continue pursuing their personal aspirations.
The programme, however, is hampered by absenteeism on the part of the young fathers who are many times reluctant to participate.
According to Gordon Harrison, this is a reflection of the naivety of some young fathers and a wider perception that child-rearing is primarily for women.
One young father, 17-year-old Chavon Gibson, was buzzing with pride last Tuesday as he clutched his two month-old daughter, Abia, on his shoulders while patting gently on her diaper.
Gibson, a resident of a downtown Kingston community, confessed to simply going with the flow when it comes on to his daughter's future, and has convinced himself that he is ready to "be a man", stopping by at his girlfriend's house each day after school to check on the young baby.
The child stays at home with her teenage mother, who is out of school and contemplating the best ways to further her education.
Gibson, on the other hand, is preparing to sit three examinations in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate next year.
He told our news team that the child is cared for by her mother and her relatives and is supported by his mother, who lives overseas. On some occasions he purchases diapers and feeding from his lunch money and takes for the child.
Ignoring the criminal implications of his actions, Gibson spoke freely as he recounted his sexual interactions with several teenagers during the time he was involved with the child's mother.
"I know that certain things were against the law certain way, but you know I wasn't really following what people say, because I thought age was just a number," he reasoned.
"I was never thinking about getting her pregnant," he continued. "We really weren't thinking at the time."
Gordon Harrison said Gibson is among scores of teenage boys in similar positions.
She explained that most of those youngsters and their parents are not informed about the resources which are critical to their personal and parental development; while some, like Gibson did on Tuesday, find many excuses not to access them.