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Raise the age – for the protection of our girls and society

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One of the more ridiculous facts of life in this country is that at the age of 15, a female may give consent to sexual intercourse, but she cannot legally access reproductive health services until she is 18.

Not only is this inconsistency in our laws ridiculous, it is dangerous for both the girls and their sexual partners.

Luke Browne, our Minister of Health, in an address he gave to youth leaders at a meeting sponsored by the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP) in Trinidad last week, described the disagreement between the age of consent and the age at which sexual and reproductive services can be accessed as a “standing shame.”

The Minister said in his address that the removal of barriers to the access of sexual and reproductive health information, education and services is a matter of human rights. Further, he said there is overwhelming evidence that early sexual initiation, as well as the indulgence in risky sexual practices, is main driver in HIV transmission.

Minister Browne is not the only member of our Cabinet of Ministers to speak about the age at which a girl can give consent to sexual intercourse and its incongruence with other laws in the country. Last November, Minister of Social Development, Gender Affairs and Youth Frederick Stephenson spoke about the incompatibility of the age of consent with other laws of the country and said the age of consent should be raised to 18.

Minister Stephenson’s comments came after the release of the results of a poll conducted by SEARCHLIGHT, which showed that 76.56 per cent of persons polled believe the age of consent in St Vincent and the Grenadines should be raised to 18, as it is the age at which an individual is considered mature enough to make her/his own decisions.

Currently, the age of consent for sexual intercourse for females is 15 years old, and has been so since 1966 – prior to which, it was 13.

Our November 2016 survey further showed that, of the 529 participants, 8.32 per cent think the consent age should remain at 15; 6.62 per cent think it should be raised to 21; and 0.76 per cent believe it should be decreased to 13. Moreover, 7.75 per cent voted ‘other’, with the vast majority of these persons saying that the consent age should be 16 or 17.

The consensus, therefore, among Vincentians, including some ministers of government (if not all), seems to be that the age of consent should be raised.

The call to raise the age of consent is one that has repeatedly been made for several years. Why then does there appear to be a reluctance to do so on the part of the authorities?

Raise the age of consent – for the protection of our girls and society.

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