Editorial

Jamaica in good company with age of consent for sex at 16

Thursday, February 14, 2019

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Less than a year after Jamaican legislators frowned upon raising the age of consent for sex from 16 to 18, the Freedom Evangelical Association (FEA) is seeking to bring the issue back to the fore.

FEA's Pastor Kenroy Edwards seems to believe that raising the age of consent would address the problem in which a 13-year-old girl is reported to be sexually involved with a 50-year-old taxi driver. He uses an argument that is popular with those who support his position.

“We have it by law that the child is considered an adult at 18 years old. At 16 years old, still in school, living with parents, you want the child to be responsible enough to partake in an activity that has certain risks to it.

“For example, the child might not be mentally ready, might not be physically ready, might not be emotionally ready, but you want that child to have the free will to act as an adult. Should and when something goes wrong, you put all the blame on the child. The blame should go on the system,” said Pastor Edwards.

Last May, lawmakers told Children's Advocate Mrs Diahann Gordon-Harrison that they saw no merit in raising the age of consent and suggested she bring more evidence to support the position she had been advancing.

The age of consent has been going up since the Dark Ages, and it's clear that mankind cannot agree on a common number. Among 202 countries, the age ranges from 11 years old — in Nigeria — to 21 — in Bahrain — but 13 countries don't have a set age, only stipulating that sex must be within marriage.

The most common age of consent is 16 years old, which 71 countries, including Jamaica, have established as the age at which it is legally permissible for a person to say 'yes' to sex. The United States, the United Kingdom and most Caribbean countries are in this bracket.

The next most common is 18 years old, which has been adopted by 38 countries, followed by 14 years old in 30 countries, 15 years old in 27 countries, and the 13 countries which stipulate “must be married”.

Setting an age of consent is obviously a difficult matter. It appears to be generally accepted that in situations involving passion and pressure, teens are more likely to choose short-term rewards and discount long-term consequences, but they may lack important factual and contextual information that could lead to better decision-making.

It will largely come down to culture, religion, social norms, and, it would seem, economic conditions. A great many Jamaican teenage girls, in particular, are financially supported by older men, often with the consent of their parents.

Certainly, moving the age up from 16 to 18 would criminalise an even greater number of men and, possibly, women. And there really is no foolproof way of stopping minors from having sex, with or without their consent.

We are, of course, in agreement with the proposal from the children's advocate that girls and boys who are 16 years old, but still children under our law, be protected by the State, under Section 10 of the Sexual Offences Act, which deals with the age of consent.

Specifically, underage children should not be criminalised for participating in what they deem 'consensual' sex with another child in their age group.

Jamaica appears to be in good company with those who set the age of consent at 16.


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