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Minister agrees consent age should be 18

Minister agrees consent age should be 18

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A recent survey conducted by SEARCHLIGHT has shown that 76.56 per cent of persons polled believe the age of consent in St Vincent and the Grenadines should be raised to 18, with which the Minister of National Mobilization wholeheartedly agrees.

In an interview last Tuesday, November 22, Frederick Stephenson, whose full portfolio also includes Social Development, Gender Affairs, Persons with Disabilities and Youth, said that a governmental committee has been in discussion for some time about raising the age of consent, and he has been trying to steer the discussion in the direction of age 18.

“I believe that sex is for adults, not children,” asserted Stephenson.{{more}}

“I think that if we raise the age of consent and the discussions continue… somewhere along the line people will come to the realization that this is the ideal thing. You are mature enough at 18; you would have gone to school… you would understand what life is about… and start putting adult responsibilities [on the individual] there and then.”

He pointed out that in other aspects of the law and legal processes, 18 is generally the age of adult responsibility, where an individual is considered mature enough to make their own decisions.

These include: having to be 18 to vote; parents having to sign children’s passports up to age 16; not being able to get married at 16 without parental permission, among others.

Stephenson, therefore, surmised that if we, as a society, are encouraging children to stave off sexual intercourse until they become adults, then our laws should reflect such.

“These are some of the things we are looking at. There are a number of pieces of legislation which refer to children, but are not in keeping with what we signed on to as the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

SEARCHLIGHT’s 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 survey questioned whether or not Vincentians think the age of consent should be changed again, and if ‘yes’, what age should it be changed to.

One Facebook user, Donicia Mason Anderson, commented that 18 is a suitable age, because some older men “take the opportunity to manipulate the minds of these young ladies just because they know they are so gullible”.

She added: “They would hardly try it on an adult because they know adults will know better.”

Another Facebook user, Kezron Walters, posted: “…does a 15 or 16 year old have the mental or intellectual capacity or cognitive development to say yes, I want to have sex with you? We must protect the most vulnerable groups in our society. The youths are one such group.”

On the flip side of the coin, another Facebook user, Chazzel Ollivierre, disagreed with raising the age of consent, asserting that the typical 15-year-old is sexually active.

“Things and times have changed and its absolutely nothing we can do about it… The physical appearance of most 15-year-old girls now are those of adults. And with that mature appearance guys, whether same age or older are tricked by the appearance of these young girls and in many cases the mature-looking girls lie about their age… Men should not be charged for having sex with these girls who willing engage in sexual activities.”

Another Facebook user, Jozette Bowen, posed the question of whether the situation would really improve if the consent age was raised.

“So when it changes to 18 what would be different? Would you also be changing the minset of these men who prey on our young girls? Changing the mindset [of] the justice system to bring these culprit to justice?”

However, another Facebook user, Jacqui Ballah-Joseph, pointed out: “Legislating the age of consent does not mean an end to the practice, it gives those who desire a means to fight a case.”

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

The Indictable Offences Amendment Ordinance (1966) repealed and replaced Sections 79 (1) and 80, making it unlawful not only to have sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 13, but also under the age of 15.

Under current legislation, it states that any man who partakes in sexual intercourse with a girl under 13 “is guilty of an offence and liable to imprisonment for life” (Criminal Code, cap 171, Section 124). It also states that it is also an offence to have sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 15; however, the perpetrator would be liable to be imprisoned for up to five years (Section 125).

Minister of National Mobilization Frederick Stephenson explained that sexual abuse of children is an issue that plagues our society, but since the launch of the ‘Break the Silence’ campaign, there have been increasing numbers of reports of such cases.

“It continues to build up, but the message is getting across, in terms of people coming forward.”

The Minister was also mindful to point out that the increased numbers of reports may not necessarily indicate that more children are being sexually abused, but rather that more persons are coming forward to report it.

He also said that there are several pieces of legislation that complement each other in prosecuting those who sexually abuse minors. Namely: Childcare and Adoption Act (2012), the Status of Children Act (2011), and the Domestic Violence Act (2015).

“The only piece outstanding is the Juvenile Justice [Act] because all of them complement each other… The Domestic Violence Act is the strongest of all the other Acts. It outlines in more detail violence… gives a lot of powers to procedures and protection orders and those sort of things.”

Additionally, Stephenson encouraged persons, who have knowledge of incidences where sexual abuse of minors is occurring, to report them.

“It is important now for persons to… report them. The Ministry can’t act until somebody comes with a report… Report to us, report to the police and then go to the court to give the evidence – that is the most important part!” (JSV)

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