The age of consent
June 3, 2004
Following upon the heels of the Kaieteur News investigative report into the case involving businessman Mr. Reeaz Khan and his teenage paramour, some of the groups, which had placed their support behind the parent of the child, have now begun to focus more upon the issue of adjusting upwards the age of consent so as to offer greater protection to our young impressionable girl children. This call enjoys widespread support but the issue goes merely beyond a simple legislative amendment. Any debate leading up to the amendment of the law will involve deep soul searching, expose the colonial biases of our inherited common law, raise the imbalances in gender relations, unearth troubling taboos within our society and possibly reactivate charges of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
The age of consent in Guyana lies at the lower end of the mean for most countries. Guyana lags far behind many countries that have updated their laws and upgraded the age at which persons can give consent for sexual relations. In many countries, the age of consent ranges from 14-18, while in Guyana the statutory age of rape remains at 12. Those who favour a change in the law are quick to point out a girl of this age is not yet at that stage of emotional development where she should be consenting to sex. Herein emerges one of our taboos. Should the age of consent be raised to 16, it would be rape for a man of 30 to have sex with a girl of 15. But would society view as seriously a girl of 15 having sex with a boy close to her age? Then there is the reverse situation. What about a situation where an older woman, say 40 years, has sex with a 15-year-old boy. Would society be as quick to insist that she be charged with rape. Any move to raise the age of consent for heterosexual relations will cause the homosexual community to ask for similar treatment; and since we have evaded outlawing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, this will become another peeve for the gay community.
The age of consent as presently stands in our law books reflects that age when the common law treated sexual relations as property, and for that reason alone it needs to be changed. The disparity between the age of sexual consent and the age to martial consent was not intended to protect young girls but rather, as one writer has put it, to protect the fatherís interest in her virginity. Parents wanted to protect the value of their virgin daughters on the wedding market and the law served this purpose. A young girl could not marry under the age of 16 without her parentís consent and thus gave her father control over her from a young age because he could marry her off anytime time after she reached the age of sexual consent which in our case was 12 years of age. Raising the age of consent will, however, not be sufficient to protect our young girls. The greatest protection is to be found not only in upgrading our laws but also in both mothers and fathers taking parenting seriously. Changing our laws must go hand in hand with a change in our morals.