Sun | Jun 13, 2021

Orville Taylor | A 14-year-old is a child, period

Published:Monday | May 17, 2021 | 10:57 AM

A 14-year-old cannot legally give anyone, including another child, access to her body. She cannot be in a ‘relationship’, so there is nothing to ‘discourage’. It’s a crime that used to be called carnal abuse but is defined as sex with a person under the age of 16. Until an individual has reached the age of 16, his or her body is not hers legally to share.

There is a body of sociological, psychological, and social work research and experience that supports the notion that a 16-year-old does not have the developmental capability for sex. Indeed, the part of the brain that controls responsibility does not fully develop until 22. Which is why so many youths in that age group get into gangs and other types of anti-social connections. But back to the 14-year-old. A person of this age does not have the capacity in law or behavioural sciences to make the decision, therefore, no matter how ‘force ripe’ she or he is.

Therefore, the argument that a child is ‘bad’ and sexually precocious is of no consequence. Pardon the analogy, but no one feels an obligation to positively respond to a dog humping one’s ankle. Similarly, if you are a ‘straight’ man and are persistently propositioned by your gay associate, do you give in and say, “Well, he wanted it, so I obliged?” It takes a certain kind of mind to see children as fair game. A nasty mens rea.

Section 10 (1) of the Sexual Offences Act 2011 outlaws sexual intercourse with a person who is under 16 years of age, and subsection (2) makes even an attempt to do so an offence as well. In the recent case, where a murdered 14-year-old was reputedly involved in some kind of liaison with a 21-year-old man, there might be defence against the suspected sexual offence. Under subsection (3), this is only “if a person of twenty-three years of age or under, who is charged for the first time ...” for any of the above offences can prove that he had reason to believe that the child was older than 16. Thankfully for prosecutors, even the innumerate and illiterate know that girls in the eighth grade wear certain types of uniform, usually a tunic.

True, Parliament, in its (lack of) wisdom over the years, has appeared to be confused about who is a child. The very same legislation above pretty much says that children may give consent for sex. Thus, it defines a child as “a person under the age of eighteen years”. So the message is ‘you are a child, but it’s okay if you have sex with an adult if you are 16’. A 16-year-old does not have the maturity to make a life-long decision about parenthood. Indeed, even without looking at the imposing behavioural research, just check in your high school year books to see how many 11th- graders followed their stated career paths. In fact, even university students between the ages of 18 and 22 are, more often than not, unsure of their career paths.

Illogical

Ask my University of the West Indies colleagues – Aldrie Henry-Lee, Claudette Crawford Brown, or Georgia Rose about how illogical it is for 17-year-olds to be able to have sex but not to vote.

Outside of the act, there is another piece of statute which potentially confounds the issue. Under the Child Pornography (Prevention) Act of 2009, a child is, “… a male or female person under the age of 18 years”. Caution! Despite the Sexual Offences Act allowing children to give sexual consent on reaching 16, they do not have the legal authority to send images of their private parts to others, adult or children, with whom they had actually had sexual contact. Therefore, if a 17-year-old female who is sexually active sends an intimate photo of her genitalia or an image depicting her (or any other sub-18 person) in a sexual setting, an offence is committed.

It gets even more interesting if the graphics produced are of adults, depicting children, in sexual activity. These actors and those who possess the photo or video are all guilty of child porn. Here I must nonetheless acknowledge that the Ministry of Labour and other agencies, including the International Labour Organization, are working on these anomalies.

Our 2004 Child Care and Protection Act dictates that adults, whether or not they are directly responsible for the child, who have reason to believe that she is in danger, being abused, sexually groomed, or in any other adverse situation, are legally obligated to be ‘informers’.

Therefore, for all these adults who pretend to be Pontius Pilate or say that they ‘tried to discourage the behaviour’ even where the child is complicit, you are just as culpable. So let the consciences of those who knew and kept silent be their guide. A call to the cops could have saved this child’s life.

- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.