Should the age of consent be changed from 16 years to 18 years in Jamaica? Will this change the behaviour of our men towards our children? Will it bring about a change in the attitudes of the youth toward sexual promiscuity? These questions and more may be asked. But what is the real issue?
Teenage pregnancy is still a major issue, our children as early as 10 years old are being abused by our so called “mature men and women” in society. Yes I said women! Women prey on young boys, many are abused and even raped by women. Will the age of consent being changed to 18 years bring about a significant change?
Minister with responsibility for Information in the Office of the Prime Minister, Senator the Hon. Sandrea Falconer, has stated her intention to push for the age of consent to be raised from 16 to 18 years. She believes that, “the time has come for us to look at the age of consent. If you cannot vote until you are age 18 years, you cannot legally drink until you are age 18 years, why then should our 16 year old youth be allowed to have sex. I do not think they should be allowed to consent, because at that time they are not equipped to make decisions,” she stated.
She believes that raising the age of consent will help to counteract the country’s high rate of teenage pregnancy, and address the breakdown of morals in the society. The Minister said that too many children are having children, which they not equipped to care for. This, she said, is leading to a breakdown in the family structure and fuelling the country’s crime problem.
Similarly, Children’s Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison is pressing ahead with her campaign to have the age of consent in Jamaica moved from 16 to 18.Mrs. Gordon Harrison on November 12, made a presentation before the Joint Select Committee of Parliament examining the Sexual Offences Act, which is scheduled for amendment. She supported her position with data on teen pregnancy, and argued that moving the age of consent to 18 would aid in protecting young women from sexual predators and early pregnancies.
“We’re seeing 25 per cent of babies in Jamaica being born to girls 10-19 years… When 16 kicks in that number spikes quite a bit,” she reported. She added that, even though a child, at age 16, might still be under the care of her parents, the fact that “the law sanctions the free consent to sex,” makes it more difficult to control their sexual behaviour.
I agree with Mrs. Falconer and Ms. Gordon, but changing the act is not enough, work needs to be done community by community, in our schools, in our churches within the public and private sector to protect and guide our children. It has to be the effort of everyone to protect our children.
Parents have the biggest role to play, but many times these are the persons abusing our children, how do we change the mind-set of these individuals? It is so sad that a mother would use her child for monetary gain or a father or stepfather, uncle or relative would use a child for sexual gratification. Putting laws in place is great, but what more will be done Ms. Falconer? What more will be done Ms. Gordon?
A Committee member, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, was not swayed by the Children’s Advocate’s arguments, however, regarding older men having sex with under-age children, as according to her, “I am not sure that the age of consent is the root of that problem.” She said the country had a longstanding problem of not properly diagnosing its various social problems and therefore being unable to find adequate solutions.
Age of consent laws are here to protect our young people from being sexually exploited by adults. Although some people under the age of consent may feel that they are mature enough to engage in a sexual relationship, others may lack the emotional development to deal with this or to feel confident enough to say ‘no’. However, no matter how old our children are, they should ever feel under pressure to have sex. And the age of consent, doesn’t mean you should be having sex at that age. Our children she be able to ask themselves, ‘Am I legally old enough?’ Do I really think I’m ready? Am I under any pressure, from others or in my own mind? Do I know what I’m doing? Do I understand the risks? Do I know how to protect myself?
It important therefore, to teach our children and youth to abstain from sex or delay the age at which you first have it. Remember, the safest sex is no sex at all! Be faithful, have sex with one partner who has been tested so you know he or she is not infected with an STD or STI. And make sure they are also not infected with the HIV virus and use a condom every time they do decide to have sex.
This is a global issue, our children are being trafficked, and some engage in prostitution, many are living with HIV and other sexual transmitted disease, it is not easy to change the behaviour and attitudes of our people. Changing the age of consent to 18 will help no matter how minimal, so yes! Let’s move forward and change the age of consent.
Third Year Law Student
Faculty of Law, UWI Mona
Contributor, Mona Law Society
Member Publications Committee
 However, this is an issue which will have to be discussed in another paper.