A 17-year-old boy last week held listeners at a United Nations Day function spellbound, saying carnal abuse was rampant in his community, in the face of little or no intervention from the State and its agents.
"Of those who graduated from high school with me, I can count on my two hands those who are not parents," he told the gathering at The Courtleigh Hotel.
The boy, whose identity is being withheld and who is a sixth-former at top Kingston high school, St George's College, blamed the incidence of carnal abuse on what he described as a lack of information about sexual and reproductive health in his community as well as the negligent attitude of some parents.
"In my (inner-city) community, it's accepted that men are sexually active, but when you really stop and look at it, the fact is that these young girls whom they are sexually active with are 15, 14, and even 13 in a lot of cases," he later told the Jamaica Observer.
"I know of cases where [some of those who are] parents now were sexually active in first form, and one of them that I am sure about was active since she was in primary school," he added.
"Carnal abuse is far too widely accepted...It's common that they have sex with underage girls and I know of cases where the underage girls stay with the men and sometimes their moms know about it but they just don't care," he asserted.
The age of consent in Jamaica is 16. Sex with those under that age is classified under the Offences Against the Person Act as carnal abuse, which attracts penalties of between seven years and life imprisonment. The age of consent has also placed restrictions on the type of information to which teens have ready access.
"My problem is that, in the inner-city, enough information is not being passed around. I don't see any fliers, and [while] I have heard about people being prosecuted for it, it's not often," the teenager told the Observer.
Twenty-three-year-old Yashema Bryan, who now works with Eve 4 Life as a mentor for teen moms, could relate. She got pregnant at age 15 for a man who was much older than she was.
She told the meeting — which took the form of a panel discussion to highlight the different ways in which the UN and its agencies are helping Jamaica achieve the development targets in Vision 2030 — that her situation would have been different had she been able to access information and contraceptives.
"I was once in your situation and access wasn't there," she said in response to the young boy's statement on the issue. "No information was there and that's why I got pregnant as a young person. I think if I had the access to condoms and the information, that wouldn't reach me."
Coupled with that, Bryan said adult support systems were also lacking.
"We don't want to get pregnant, but is something that happens because we don't have bigger heads to support us," she said.
Executive director of Eve 4 Life Patricia Watson said carnal abuse, which development agencies are now labelling cross-generational sex, is a major issue, for which the organisation is seeking to mount a campaign called 'No go deh!'
"We are not doing enough as it relates to sex with persons under 16 and in our organisation we are recognising through the groups we work with that the majority of them got pregnant by persons who were over five years their senior. The biggest gap that we had is an 18-year-old and an
80-year-old," she said.
"We know that we have to address that particular issue and we are now developing a campaign around the whole issue of cross-generational sex and the impact it is having on our young people, and as well as the STIs we know our young people are getting as a result of some of those relationships," Watson added.
Asked whether moving the age of consent up from 16 to 18 would help stem the incidence or would solve the problem of restricted access to sexual information and contraceptives to adolescents, Watson replied in the negative.
"Because the age of consent is 16, moving the limit from 16 to 18 would mean that you would have a wider band of people unable to access those commodities.
"The age of consent, in a number of ways, can become more limiting than liberating," added director of programmes at Eve 4 Life Joy Crawford. "Moving [it] does not protect. It's about teaching our young people about sexual health, sexual responsibility and how they can protect themselves, make better choices and validate what they want about their sexual goals."
Crawford argued that a holistic approach to sex in adolescents was the way to go.
"For us to think that if we have information on the commodities every young person is going to run and have sex is not true and we have to recognise that. Another thing we have found working with our young people is that almost all our teenage mothers said 'if only we knew before', 'if only we understood the issues before' and 'if only we had access before', which means we are catching our young people after the fact and we need to change that."
UN Day marks the anniversary of the date the United Nations Charter came into force — October 24, 1945.