Women's Issues In Guyana

Age of consent; Parliamentary committee hearing was biased – coalition

Posted in Legislation by wiig on June 19, 2005
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Stabroek News – June 19, 2005

“The committee had its mind made up before we even began.” That was the reaction of one member of a coalition of 126 organisations behind raising the age of consent to 18 years after the hearing last week by the parliamentary select committee reviewing the amendment to the law.

The Age of Consent Coalition (ACC) said only four members of the parliamentary committee turned up at the hearing and those who did gave the impression that they were already in favour of 16 years and were unwilling to meaningfully engage on any of the coalition’s proposals.

Over 65 members of the coalition, which to date comprises 126 organizations, turned up at Parliament to witness the hearings last week. They included Amerindian organisations, women and religious bodies, disability and sports organizations, and some of the 34 youth organizations supporting 18 as the age of consent. Sign language interpreters interpreted the parliamentary proceedings for members of hearing-impaired organizations. Eight young women comprising students from high school, university and young professionals made up the coalition team that presented before the committee, which had invited submissions from the public as part of its work to review the amendment to the law.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the group lamented that maximum protection was being mired by the argument that the age of consent cannot be the same as the age of majority, meaning that it had to be below 18 years.

“No one, neither those who support it nor those who may be open to 18, seems to understand it,” the ACC statement said.

It questioned the necessity of specifying 18 as the voting age on the same rationale, and it noted that one of its presenters at the hearing asked why it would not be possible to legislate 18 in very much the same way as the UK, where homosexuality is legal at an age of consent of 18, which is also its age majority.

The coalition has challenged the members of the committee to say what they understand by the term ‘age of consent’. Also, how they relate this understanding to Articles 69 and 70 of the Criminal (Offences) Act, which are to be amended, and its relationship to the age of majority.

The group added that its concern remained identical with the original intention of the amendment, that is, how to protect young girls from being coerced into sexual activity by older men before they were ready to enter a relationship.

It said its contention was that a modern re-interpretation of protection was required which would take into account widespread sexual activity at an early age and the coercive pressures on young women for sex before they were ready for such experiences.

“The committee is clinging to the obsolete and lazy approach of simply raising the age of consent and rejecting everything else that is relevant,” the grouping said, clearly referring to what it earlier described as the government approach to the issue that is, taking the bill to parliament to change numbers and nothing else.

In the sitting, the ACC delegation recalled that so-called older lovers killed five 16-year-old girls, some of whom had started ‘relationships’ since they were 12 years old, in the past nine months.

“Those are the ones who are known to have been battered and stabbed,” the group said, “What is not known is how many more received a death sentence in the form of HIV/AIDS because they were unable to convince their older partners to use condoms.” It was also noted that one committee member questioned whether older men were really responsible for 15- to 19-year-old girls being the group in which HIV was spreading most rapidly, although the government’s own report from the National AIDS Programme Secretariat for 2003 was suggesting this was the cause.

The coalition also noted that one of its presenters reminded the Committee that not one of the 34 cases of statutory rape that have reached the High Court since the year 2000 have ended in conviction, and in fact, only three reached the point of a trial.

“Is this the same court system which is about to take on hundreds, perhaps thousands, of statutory rape cases by simply raising the age to 16?” the coalition questioned.

The team of young presenters was consciously made up of only young women on the grounds that victims of sexual violence crimes in Guyana were overwhelmingly female and the sections of the Act to be amended only referred to the age of females – deliberately – not as a matter of out-of-date gender language.

Although a member of the committee chided them for the lack of male representatives, the coalition noted that a recent study found isolated incidents of older women seducing younger males in Guyana.

“However, when well-to-do middle-class, middle-aged married women are routinely seeking to sexually exploit young boys, the issue of gender balance might be relevant. For now it is a distraction,” it said.

“It was frustrating that they couldn’t argue against 18 and wouldn’t defend 16,” one of those present said afterward, while another felt that “The attitude of some of the committee members was alarming.” Another said of one of the committee members:

“Her responses were sharp and somewhat argumentative, it was like she had prepared for a confrontation.”


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