Move age of consent to 18

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

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THE concern raised by the United Nations about Jamaica's Marriage Act is cause, we believe, for serious discussion.

A report in yesterday's edition of our weekly All Woman magazine informed us that the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women is recommending that we amend our marriage law without delay.

That position came against the background that 16-year-olds can get married in Jamaica, although the adult age is 18.

Under the Marriage Act, persons below the age of 18 who wish to get married can do so but with the consent of their parents or guardians. If the parents or guardians cannot give consent or unreasonably withhold consent, either party to the intended marriage could refer the matter to a Supreme Court judge who would make the decision.

We can't disagree with the view that there is inconsistency in our laws, given that the Child Care and Protection Act, as well as other pieces of legislation recognise anyone under the age of 18 as a child, while the legal age of consent is 16 and, at that age, children can marry under the specified conditions.

So basically, what the State is saying to our children is that they are not old enough to make adult decisions until they are 18, but can marry and indulge in sex -- both of which are adult activities which could lead to child bearing -- as long as they are 16 years old.

We can't fathom why, when the law was passed in the 1970s making the adult age 18 years, accompanying legislation was not tabled and passed, recognising the age of consent as 18 as well, and removing altogether the allowance for 16-year-olds to get married. Or at the time when the age of consent was raised from 14 to 16.

For really, 16-year-olds are still children and are by no means mentally, spiritually, physically or financially ready for the maturity required for marriage and sex.

True, we haven't heard of any cases of 16-year-olds getting married in Jamaica. That, however, doesn't mean that we should leave the door open for any such possibility. Because we would rue the day that any unthinking individual decides to take advantage of what is really a poor law.

Our position is also rooted in our belief that the age ceiling on carnal abuse should not be 16, but 18 years. And recent events, in which our children have been sexually abused, have strengthened our resolve on that issue.

The president of Woman Inc, Ms Dundeen Ferguson, is absolutely correct in stating that we have not seriously dealt with this issue. For we remember well the call by Mr Victor Cummings in the Parliament in December 2003 to increase the age of consent to 18.

Mr Cummings, who at the time was the representative for Central Kingston, was speaking during a debate on a resolution brought by the then member of parliament for South Central St Catherine, Ms Sharon Hay-Webster who, during her time in the House, championed the cause of Jamaica's children.

At that time, police data showed a 28 per cent increase in carnal abuse cases, and reports were swirling of a serial rapist who was suspected of violating the innocence of 15 little girls in St James earlier that year.

It was noticeable that during that session there was no immediate response to Mr Cummings' suggestion. However, since then we have seen the passing of the Child Care and Protection Act, which we applaud.

However, this issue of the age of consent needs serious attention, especially with all that is happening in Jamaica today.




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