Age of consent not the problem

Published: Thursday | December 26, 2013 Comments 0

By Jaevion Nelson

T
he issue of adolescent sexual intercourse is always a very heated emotional discussion and then we climax without a solution. 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?

These are important questions we must consider and use to guide our understanding regarding statutory rape laws. According to Patricia Donovan (1996) in a special report titled, Can Statutory Rape Laws Be Effective in Preventing Adolescent Pregnancy?, "Statutory rape laws are based on the premise that until a person reaches a certain age, that individual is legally incapable of consenting to sexual intercourse. Statutory rape was codified into English law more than 700 years ago, when it became illegal "to ravish," with or without her consent, a "maiden" under the theref 12."

It is crucial that we understand that the age of consent has no bearing on one's hormones/sexual arousal and there is no guarantee that it will deter out of fear, or encourage adolescents to delay sexual activity. Currently, the age of consent is 16 and the average age of sexual debut is below that. Will increasing the age limit somehow, magically change the current circumstances? In addition, adolescent pregnancy is about 72 per 1,000 with the majority - yes, more than 90 per cent - being for adult males 20 years or older.

enforce adult responsibility

I would be delighted if we focused as much attention on encouraging adults to be responsible. Far too many of us pretend that we are oblivious to 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. It certainly wouldn't hurt if for the New Year's resolution that we usually make, that we commit ourselves to be a little more responsible and speak out against the abuse of our children. Let's not use the age of consent as a scapegoat. How many arrests have there been in relation to the 2756 cases of child sexual abuse reported to the Office of the Children's Registry in 2012?

There is another pertinent question that must be asked. Could someone explain why these individuals are so silent about the fact that children can get married in Jamaica? Or is it that we are only concerned that minors (people under the age of 18) are having sex out of wedlock? Under Section 24 of the Marriage Act 1979, children can legally be married (with the consent of the parent or a summary ruling by the judge of the Supreme Court). The Act states, "Where a person under 18 years of age not being a widower or widow intends to marry, the father, or if the father is dead, the lawful guardian or guardians, or if there is no such guardian the mother, if unmarried, of such person shall have authority to consent to the marriage of such person, and such consent is hereby required unless there is no person authorised to give it resident in this Island."

Of course, child marriage is not socially acceptable in Jamaica, but cohabiting relationships between adults and children, girls, especially are particularly common.

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's Social Institutions and Gender Index, "In 1970, 16 per cent of girls aged between 15 and 19 were married, divorced or widowed," and in 2002, the data showed 0.5 per cent of girls in the same cohort were married, compared to 0.2 per cent of boys.

As the National Family Planning Board states, "Though we strive to show adolescents the advantages of postponing sexual initiation, this is not something that they can always decide for themselves. In preliminarily assessing intimate partner violence, there is need for great concern and suitable action as it relates to forced sexual intercourse. Almost half the females aged 15-24 who reported that they were sexually active, attested to the fact that they were coerced into having sex at the time of their first sex."

On another note, I want to extend my commendations to Tessanne on her victory. You have given us all something to celebrate - a reason to end the year on a high note. Hearty congratulations. I hope our leaders will provide more opportunities for people to develop their talents. Let us think about Tessanne beyond tourism. Let's think about opportunities to inspire hope and a sense of national pride, and facilitate unity and discipline across the nation. Perhaps, as others have suggested, it is time to brand Half-Way Tree as (National) Pride Square.

Happy Holidays!

Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.

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