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Consent bill unlikely before year's end
Stabroek News
June 13, 2004

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While all may agree that the age of sexual consent must be raised, getting the relevant legislation through parliament will probably not occur until the year's end.

The move to raise the age has been spurred by the recent case of a middle-aged businessman's sexual ex-ploits with a 13-year-old girl.

GAP Member of Parliament Shirley Melville says 13 is too young and the law should be definitely changed, but she does not think it possible for a number of months.

Melville believes that there can be allowances for speeding up the process to only amend the provisions for the age of consent, but amending the entire law may not be possible in the short-term.

She pointed out that President Bharrat Jagdeo did give a commitment to examine the issue and with such encouragement from the government she thinks it will be easier to identify ways and means to get the law passed.
Deborah Backer

She says politicians and the government need to appreciate that it is the people who elected them to parliament and it is their responsibility to respond to the needs of the electorate.

But realistically, Melville says enacting an amendment to the law may be achievable in three or four months, especially when public consultations are also factored into the time frame.

But with the annual two-month recess already near, she thinks November seems the most likely time.

She notes that several organisations have been lobbying for the law to be changed, which she feels could expedite the process since they represent different sections of the society. In fact, she says their consultations may perhaps be easier than those conducted by the government.

The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) last week organised a meeting to discuss ways in which legislation on raising the age of consent could be fast-tracked through Parliament.

At that forum, WPA executive Rupert Roopnarine also said enacting an amendment might take until year's end at the speed parliament worked.

While most of the groups that participated at that meeting were in favour of raising the age of consent to 18, Melville sees 16 as the more realistic option.

"Whether we want to face it or not, at 16 they are young adults..." she says.

Melville hopes that the age of consent will not be looked at in isolation, since simply raising it will not give legislators a magic wand to solve problems highlighted by this recent case.

She thinks the role of parents should not be de-linked from the considerations and that restoring family values ought to be a priority.

She plans to propose more programmes on parenting and the family to convey the message, which she says has been successful in the hinterland.

In the hinterland areas teenage pregnancy is a problem, but she says both women and youth groups have had some success.

She also says parents need to find time for their children since too much is expected of teachers and others who are supposed to be role models.

Minister of Human Services Bibi Shadick says it is the intention of her ministry to hold public consultations once a draft amendment addressing all the issues is realised.

She has admitted that the decision to raise the age of consent was taken over two years ago. But in order to do so there needs to be consultations with various interest groups, some of whom, she says, do not think that only raising the age will solve the problem.

The PNCR agrees that the law should be updated, but does not seem likely to lay the amendment in the National Assembly as it is currently boycotting Parlia-ment over the death squad allegations.

PNCR leader Robert Corbin said on Thursday that participating in the parliamentary process is meaningless, citing his two attempts to debate the death squad allegations.

"It will be a waste of time for us to bring any motion or bill unless we see some evidence of Parliament being more responsive to representatives of the people in the country," said Corbin, who thinks the Parliament should be discussing these sensitive issues.

PNCR MP Deborah Backer is on record as proposing that the benchmark be raised to protect others like the 13-year-old girl, whose case, she says, provides an opportunity for government to revise the law.

PNCR MP Raphael Trotman also thinks that an urgent revision of the law is needed and he has noted that in the past the government has rushed legislation through the National Assembly when needed.