An upward shift in the age of consent and increased penalties for sex crimes are to be given consideration as Attorney General Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin laments last year’s increase in all forms of sex crimes.
The legislator said he intends to start discussions soon with the relevant government and non-governmental organisations to clamp down on sexual offences.
“We will be speaking with social partners in the future to make a determination whether or not we ought to increase the age of consent to the age of 18. This would seem to be consistent with the Constitution, which (stipulates) a person reaches his or her age of majority at 18; you can vote then and you can enter into contractual relations at that the age. How then is it proper that persons below 18 years old can consent to sexual activities?” the minister posited.
Benjamin said penalties for sexual offences should also be increased.
“The penalties will be reviewed. (For) any person taking advantage of persons between the ages of 14 and 16, (penalties) must be increased. We must stop the act of men exploiting young (girls). Many young girls are disadvantaged and their eyes are opened when thy can be given these expensive phones and latest clothing and go to parties and get their hair fixed; that is unfortunate and must be stamped out,” Benjamin said.
Currently, if a man has sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 14, he could be jailed for life. But, if he engages a girl between 14 and less than 16 years, he faces a maximum of 15 years in prison.
At the same time, Minister Benjamin said he recognises that stiffer penalties for sex crimes cannot be the only approach to addressing the growing problem.
“We have got to work comprehensively with the department of social transformation, education ministry, churches and other social partners to instill, in young women in particular and men generally, the importance of exercising control in their activities. It is regrettable there has been an increase in incest, that it disgusting as well as other offences against young ladies,” the attorney general said.
He said the stakeholders need to develop programmes to enlighten parents of their responsibilities; to educate men and women about morality and teach them that they have a responsibility not to exploit and take advantage of anyone.
Benjamin, who is a trained lawyer with decades of experience in the criminal court, said he knows that the court pays attention to crime statistics and “will demonstrate abhorrence through their sentences” of convicted sex offenders.
Last year, police said they received increased complaints of all forms of sex crimes which included incest, adult males having sexual intercourse with under-aged girls, rape, indecent assault and serious indecency.