July 18, 2016

Consider the following scenario, which is fictitious but serves to demonstrate a real dilemma that faces parents in Jamaica.

Gozi has just celebrated her 'sweet 16' birthday with a big party. It is now 10 a.m. the Saturday following the party. She is in her bed feeling wonderful. Her mother, Angela, storms in her room to remind her to get out of bed as she needs to clean her room and to attend math extra classes later in the day. Gozi is not amused because her intention was to start posting her birthday pictures on Facebook and Instagram, although she was only two months away from her CXC exams.

Her mother, who always has a busy Saturday, wishes that Gozi, now 16, could drive the extra vehicle parked at home. Gozi cannot wait to start driving. However, Angela had advised Gozi that under the Road Traffic Act, she would not be able to get a driver's licence until she reaches 17 for a private driver's licence, or 18 for a general driver's licence. Gozi cannot obtain a learner's licence until she is 17.

Gozi also likes politics and wants to join a political party youth group, but her parents kept telling her to concentrate on her schoolwork because it makes no sense for her to get involved in politics at her age. Gozi cannot vote because, under the Constitution of Jamaica and the Representation of Peoples Act, she has to be 18 before she can be registered to vote.


Marriage. This is something that Gozi and Angela would speak about on occasions, but Angela had informed Gozi that under the Marriage Act, she could get married before her 18th birthday, but only with the consent of her parents or a judge of the Supreme Court. So, if she cannot get the requisite consent to do so, then she cannot be lawfully married before she is 18.

Gozi's father, Dave, likes to have a glass or two of wine at home after dinner. For some time now, Gozi has been curious about the taste of wine, but her father always reminds her that until she becomes 18, she is a minor or a child in the eyes of the law, pursuant to the Child Care and Protection Act, and so she is not allowed to drink alcoholic beverages.

Out of frustration with the constant complaints and the information from her parents as to the things she should do around the house and cannot do according to law, Gozi asks her parents what it is that she can do without her parents' consent, now that she is 16.

Dave and Angela remain silent. Their worst nightmare now confronts them. They know that according to the law, Gozi can now validly consent to having sexual intercourse at 16 and the law does not require the consent of her parents or the approval of the court for her to do so. Dave tells Gozi that Angela will deal with that question.


Angela cringes at the thought that if her daughter decides to have sexual intercourse, even with a man of 70, there is absolutely nothing she can do about it in law. She thinks of teenage pregnancy and the many sexually transmitted diseases that could affect her daughter for life. She thinks of the emotional issues attendant on sexual relationships. She realises that despite these dangers, there is nothing that she could do in law to stop her daughter from engaging in consensual sexual intercourse.

Angela is left to ponder about what she views as the unfairness of the law relating to the age of consent for sexual intercourse. A 16-year-old girl, who is not even able to open a bank account on her own, can, nevertheless, make a life-changing decision of her own and there is nothing a parent can do about it.

"Clearly, the law is an ass," Angela utters to herself in bewilderment, while Gozi waits patiently for a response.

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