Monday, August 29, 2011

What does your candidate think about 16-year-olds having sex?

(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 20 August 2011)  

Question 10:  How do you feel about the current age of consent being 16?

APNU Candidate David Granger: 

My view is that it should be 18 because 18 is the age when you can join the armed forces, vote, own a firearm or drive a car. I think 18. By that time I think you are mature enough to make a decision about many things.

PPP/C Candidate Donald Ramotar

I think that society went through a lot of debate and that Parliament went through a lot of debate on that issue and it seems to have been the age that most people see fit. I do not think everybody agreed on it, but most people seemed to agree on it. I suspect that taking the reality into consideration, it is probably the best we could do.

My own view, however, is that [the age of consent] should not take away the responsibility of the society or the many institutions of society or the home from educating young women not to fall into the trap of having sex too early and having kids too early. Let them know how it can affect their lives. It is not necessarily a good thing to have such young people having children.

So while that law is there, I don’t think it has removed the responsibility from us to guide our youngsters. Those of us who have more experience in life and have some form of public responsibility should advise them and guide them to probably wait until later for these types of things.

AFC Candidate Khemraj Ramjattan

That is always a difficult one. I feel that 16-year-olds are big enough to understand sexual relations in this country. And it is an arbitrary thing, Stella. It is very arbitrary. Eighteen, we indicate, is an age of majority. It’s two years down. Sixteen year olds have been getting 16 subjects [at] CXC. You know what I mean?

So, when this age thing came into being, I always said it was going to be arbitrary. You could flip a coin and say yes. Knowing the state of the Internet, children are so capacitated today to understand the ways of the world at the age of 16. So in a sense, I feel they can understand what is responsible conduct from what is irresponsible conduct.

For me, I am not going to make it a big issue. I feel that yes, if someone wants to consent to sex at the age of 16, so be it. I understand years before you had [the age of consent at] 13. A young Indian girl could marry at that age. Gandhi’s wife was married at the age of 13. Well, of course, the modern times I suspect.

I don’t know. It is a pretty arbitrary thing. There will be some people, like girls, who at the age of 16 and up are not fully mature to bear children. Well, there again you may have even 18-year-olds who may not be fully mature enough to bear children.

I can see where there might be argument for going upwards to 18, but in our context here in Guyana, I feel 16 is okay for the age of consent.

My response:
I have a problem with Ramjattan’s nonchalant attitude about this topic. While I acknowledge that this issue was beaten into the ground a few years ago, there is no one who can convince me that the age of consent change to 16 has protected the young girls of Guyana from sexual predators anymore than when it was 13.

Did you know that in Nevada, the home of Las Vegas (a.k.a. Sin City), a person over the age of 21 can be sent to jail for life without possibility of parole if convicted of sexual assault against a child under the age of 14? That includes the child’s father.

Sin City even goes so far as to convict of a misdemeanour anyone “who knows or should know that a violent or sexual offence has been committed against a child, and does not report that offence to a law enforcement agency within 24 hours.” These types of laws would go a long way toward protecting the children of Guyana (if they were enforced).

I still believe 16 to be too young for the age of consent. If a girl is not physically ready to bear children at this age, as Mr. Ramjattan has already acknowledged, what makes us think they are physically ready to have sex? Would not the fact of someone not being ready to handle the ramifications of sex (i.e. pregnancy) signify that the person is not ready to have sex? That does not seem so arbitrary to me.

None of my four children were ready to have sex at 16. Seventeen? Maybe, but I would rather err on the side of knowing they were taking this important step while they are fully mentally, physically and emotionally prepared rather than being pushed into something for which they were not ready.

Just because Gandhi’s wife married at 13 does not make it right. There is no girl child in the entire world ready to marry at 13 years of age. Are there 16-year-olds who are ready for sex? Perhaps a small percentage. However, the number of 18-year-olds ready for sex is significantly higher.

When this topic was being debated in Parliament in 2005, I wanted to see the age of consent at 17. Truth be told, I suppose all women’s advocates were just happy to see that it was no longer the innocent age of 13. However, in the end, the age of consent matters very little if those who still have sex with little girls are never brought to justice.

The ratings: Granger – 2; Ramotar – 3; Ramjattan – 1

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