SENATOR Damion Crawford’s call to increase the age of consent from 16 to 18 years is being backed by several youth who argue that it would lessen the risk of teenage pregnancies and give young girls a better chance of completing their secondary-level of education.
Crawford, the Opposition spokesman on education, made the suggestion in the Upper House last Friday given the prevalence of teenage pregnancies in Jamaica, with 60,000 girls giving birth over a 10-year period.
Responding to the call, the youngsters told the Jamaica Observer on Monday that the current age of consent heightens the vulnerability of their peers to sexual predators as they are less likely to make informed decisions about sexual engagements.
According to youth parliamentarian Kevar Bennett, the change in the age of consent is well-needed as the country tries to address issues of teenage pregnancy, child abuse, and high school dropouts.
“When you really look at the age of 16, not many persons are able to do anything legally â€” you can’t legally work, legally drink, legally drive or sustain life. I do not see the need for it to be legally acceptable for us to engage in any sexual activity at the age of 16,” he said.
“A man can have sex with a minor knowing that the law will not harshly punish them because it is acceptable, versus when you are 18 you’re able to make more informed decisions as to what to expect,” he told the Observer.
One 16-year-old, whose name is being withheld, said with the age of consent being 16, youngsters use it as an excuse to disregard long-standing issues such as teenage pregnancy and engage in casual sexual activity.
She argued that the current age of consent “opens doors for grooming and other predatory behaviour”.
“The brain does not fully develop until 25 so why should 16-year-olds be at liberty to consent to sex? It is not simply about saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but also accepting the consequences of their actions, especially when pregnancy or STDs are to be considered. There are far too many rights and no responsibility or accountability. Essentially, I believe the age of consent should be reconsidered as it has proven to not be beneficial to the sexually provocative culture of our society,” she said.
Noting that she was told by a teacher that girls are quickly removed from school as soon as they are pregnant, the teenager said it is the harsh reality of teenage pregnancy, despite disagreeing with the action.
“Most teenagers graduate high school at 18 and so pushing the age of consent would better ensure that no teenage girl goes through this brutal circumstance. We want our youth to make informed and wise decisions for [their] benefit and not be persuaded or coerced into engaging in sexual activities just because they are at liberty to do so. This definitely is a good direction to steer the youth as it encourages them to be more prudent in today’s sexually provocative society and also helps protect them from predators at such a young age,” she said.
Another 16-year-old, who shared a similar view, questioned, “At the age of 16 if a female ends up pregnant she will be looked down on by, not only family and friends but also society so why give her consent?”
“I agree with Opposition Senator Damion Crawford because if the age of consent is 18, no girl under the age of 18 should be involved in any sexual activity, which means no girl should have to drop out of school because of teenage pregnancy. By the age of 18 most persons finish school so with the age of consent being 18 there should be a decrease in the rate of girls dropping out of high school because of pregnancy,” she added.
Meanwhile, a 17-year-old told the Observer that at age 18 young people are more mentally stable to make conscious decisions.
“They are less likely to be persuaded or influenced to do something they do not want to participate in. However, if the age of consent is moved to 18 there needs to be some measures or strategies to encourage younger generations to abstain from sexual activities,” she said.
Senator Crawford cited statistics from a World Bank study, based on the Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions, which revealed that 49 per cent of girls are not in high school because they are pregnant.
Further, data from the Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation for the academic year 2021/22 showed that there are 585 teen moms enrolled.
Previous data showed that there were 264 teen moms for the 2020/21 school year, 413 for 2019/20, and 518 for 2018/19.