Guyana should rewrite the law relating to consent

Stabroek News

June 3, 2004

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Dear Editor,

If it weren't for a thirteen-year-old girl in the sickening news of being sexually involved with a grown man, I'd describe this is as just another soap opera in an otherwise troubled country. But this issue involves a minor and may well serve as the catalyst for change in the way we see and treat school-age girls in Guyana.

If there is a religious- based archaic law that long permitted adults to marry children or a law that allowed consensual sex between adults and children of a certain school age, then Mr Khan may have a legal basis to do what he is doing even though he lacks moral rectitude.

As for his intention to marry the girl, I think the law will require he first obtains her parents' consent, and if the parents object, then the court has to side with the parents. If the girl insists she wants to be with Mr Khan, then until the law is changed to reflect child protection, Mr Khan, again, is legally free but morally bankrupt and the child is twice a victim - of an outdated law and a man who has exploited her.

It really takes a depraved, twisted mind in a grown man to look at a child and develop sexual feelings towards her. To further assume that that child is capable of being the mother of that man's children, even while she is still a child, is worse than first-degree robbery because that child is being robbed of her precious childhood. That child may be physically developed, but her mind still has some way to go to fully comprehend who she is as a person with a unique identity and her true purpose on earth - factors associated with maturity and adulthood.

Perchance, the laws that were written many years ago, citing religious reasons, allowed parents to give their school-age children's hand in marriage, and even children over 12 apparently could consent to sexual activity with adults. But we are living in an enlightened era when we know better and should take steps to do better by rewriting those laws.

Maybe the time has come for Guyana to establish that a child is legally recognized as such until the age of 18, and that the age for parental consent to marry should be 16 or 17. I am unable to propose or support any age for sexual consent, because it endorses sexual sin. Incidentally, sexual consent even among children is a very huge problem as I have been observing in the United States.

I agree that it is illegal for an adult to have sex with a minor (the American law says a minor is anyone under 17), even if consensual, but when I see these same under-age children indulging in rampant sexual promiscuity among themselves and getting babies, and that the law does not only allow it but the system also helps provide for the babies of these children without holding the fathers responsible or accountable, then I have to wonder if the lawmakers are making any headway by helping protect children from adults but not protecting children from themselves? Sometimes I am tempted to feel children are doing just as great, if not greater, damage to themselves than sexually depraved adults.

I think that if the protection of children is the aim of any law to prevent adults from having sex with children, then that protection should also require that children be prevented from having sex among themselves, or else the law is only achieving 50% of its goal.

Children are God's gifts to parents and it is the responsibility of parents to treat with these gifts in a manner befitting the expectations of the Giver. And even if a person is not a parent, but an adult, that person should be able to distinguish between a child, still in the gift stage of being raised, and an adult, at the age of independence and fully responsible and accountable for his or her own actions.

Lawmakers have to take a stand now and replace the archaic laws that allow adults to have consensual sex with or marry school-age children.

Yours faithfully,

Emile Mervin