Paedophile law may take six months
Activists agree on 18 as age of consent
Stabroek News
June 10, 2004

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Child-rights advocates propose raising the age for sexual consent to 18 but it might take the rest of the year to pass an amendment which they hope will discourage paedophiles who prey upon young children.

Participants reached a general consensus on the proposed age - 13 at the moment - at a meeting organised by the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) on Tuesday to look at the issue and to fast-track its enactment. This is in the wake of revelations about businessman Reeaz Khan's sexual relationship with a girl of 13, which has generated public outrage.

The GHRA says sexual exploitation of children is rising rapidly and there is a search for younger victims. In Guyana, poverty and the influx of Brazilian miners are two factors which it says ought to be taken into account.

Participants reached a consensus on the new age, which conforms to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that defines a child as everyone below the age of 18. But there were differences of opinion on the provisions for under-aged sex, one of the issues that will be resolved at a meeting planned for next week.

GHRA Executive Secretary and attorney Vidushi Persaud told the participants that it would be naïve to imagine that lifting the age of consent would eliminate under-age sexual activity.

But the GHRA feels the advantages to children and young people far outweigh the disadvantages, she said, adding that the threat of the transmission of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections as well as the issue of teenage pregnancy were taken into account.

Persaud also said experience in other jurisdictions has shown that when the age of consent is raised, it deters adults who would prey on children.

She felt there is need for strong legislation for the protection of young people, especially where an exploitive relationship exists between a young person and an adult with whom he/she is having sex.

Persaud noted that it must be appreciated that if under-aged sexual activity is criminalised, then both parties to such activities would be liable to prosecution. "It is not our desire to have young persons just below the age of 18 dragged before the courts. Our position is not a pious, moralistic one. What we wish to avoid is the abuse by older persons of our young people."

She said there ought to be some relaxation of the penalties for under-aged offenders, who the GHRA said should be no more than two years of each other's age.

The human rights body said the issue is not to treat two teenagers engaging in consensual but under-aged sexual activity in the same way as the predatory assault of an adult male on a female child. In fact, it said anxiety to protect children from sexual molestation and abuse should not create a situation that might criminalise teens who may experiment sexually outside the law.

Although he warned that the complexity of the issue should not be underestimated, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine said the quickest way to fast-track an amendment is for it to be submitted by a Member of Parliament, especially one from the government. He opined that with luck the amendment could be effected by the end of the year.

Roopnarine also looked at the status of the Children's Bill, which has been in draft form for the last ten years. It is the practice that Bills be placed before Special Parliamentary Committees only after their second reading.

He suggested that Parliament be creative and employ an initiative that would allow for the Bill to be referred to a committee after its first reading, that is immediately after it is presented, so that more work can go into it. Publishing the bill also remains an option, he said, so that it can be scrutinised by the public.

Though there was a general consensus on age 18, some of the participants also advocated for age 16, though they were in the minority.

There were also proposals for the establishment of a family court and concerns were expressed about the shortcomings of the law.