Wide-ranging presentations were made yesterday to the joint select committee of Parliament reviewing the Sexual Offences Act and related laws, with four groups registering strong positions on several issues such as abortion, sexual offences against children, and retention of the ‘buggery law’.
Nadeen Spence, co-founder of the Tambourine Army, called for jury trials in rape cases against children to be scrapped and replaced by a three-member panel of judges.
“We believe that a three-member panel of judges will likely reduce undue influence over the course of justice by high-profile offenders and offenders in positions of trust,” she said.
Spence is of the view that many Jamaicans view rape as “just a little sex”, noting that the seriousness of the offence does not resonate with many jurors. She cited a high-profile case where a pastor was charged with carnally abusing a child but was acquitted in a jury trial despite DNA evidence that linked him to the incident.
The activist also called for the offence of sexual intercourse with another person who is under the age of 16 years to be described as rape of a child or rape of another person below the age of consent. Her group wants mandatory life imprisonment for persons convicted of committing this offence.
Spence urged lawmakers to make provisions in law for the Sex Offenders Registry to be made accessible to the public on the Internet, in parish libraries, and at educational and care institutions.
NO TO ABORTION
Daniel Thomas, president of the Love March Movement, called for the various sections in the Offences Against the Person Act (76, 77, 79) to remain unchanged, noting that the question of adjusting the buggery provision in the legislation should be put to Jamaicans to decide in a referendum. The group, which has a following of some 200 young people, also recommended that the age of consent be increased from 16 to 18 years.
At the same time, adviser of the Pregnancy Resource Centre of Jamaica Dr Doreen West urged legislators to maintain the status quo on abortion.
Addressing a proposal that abortion be legally permitted in circumstances of sexual assault, West argued that the legalisation of abortion in “these admittedly difficult circumstances would be implicit admission that there are circumstances under which innocent human life may be destroyed with the support of the State”.
She stressed that even in the case of pregnancy owing to sexual violation, the “issue of the nature of the unborn must still be considered separately from the nature of the act that led to conception”.
“Abortion is no remedy for rape,” West added, noting that there is much more that can be done to protect and support women and girls.
Equality for All, an affiliate of J-FLAG, submitted that if Jamaica continued to treat the ‘buggery law’ with reverence, this would only harm the justice system and “puts us at odds with international treaties”.
It says that Section 79 of the Offences Against the Person Act broadly criminalises all forms of intimacy between men. “This puts us at odds with our human rights responsibility to respect the rights to privacy and equality before the law enshrined in our own Jamaican Charter of Rights,” the group noted.