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Grave issues in redefining age of consent

The recent debate on revision of the age of consent from 18 to 16 years  is as controversial as the topic of sex itself. Although many of us are loath to admit it, sex  remains a central part of life.

Currently, anyone who engages in sex with a minor (below 18 years) is liable to a crime of defilement. Of course, this places the adult on the spot.

But then the question begs, what about if the act was consensual, and the minor was a willing participant or even the “aggressor” in this case? The dilemma has been aptly described as a Romeo and Juliet scenario, which is now troubling both the lawmakers and the Judiciary, prompting the proposal to lower the consent age.

Therefore, while the debate may seem superfluous is pertinent. Somehow, we seem to be grappling with the perennial conflict between tradition, religion and modernity. In some African communities, children were married off as young as 12.

Indeed, the issue of sexual relations between minors has become both emotive and sensitive. Adults taking the high moral ground on this issue need to approach the subject more objectively.

Religious organisations are also faced with the same predicament. For instance, do the holy books state the age of sexual consent? In this age of moral relativism, the doctrine of sex purely as a means of procreation may not hold water.

At 18 years, Kenya has one of the highest ages of consent globally, with the global average at 16 years. Yet our children are more sexually active compared to jurisdictions with a lower consent threshold.

According to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (2014-2018), teen pregnancy and motherhood rates stand at 18 per cent. The report further states that about one in every five adolescent girls has either given birth, or is pregnant with her first child.

Modern lifestyles, including diets and the pervasive information and communication technologies, have been blamed for making minors more prone to sexual adventurism than previously. Therefore, how do we divorce physical maturity from emotional and psychological maturity?

With raging hormones, for instance, what is the society doing to keep boys away from sex until they are 18? But since you cannot legislate against hormones, schools should introduce some form of education on sex and reproductive health.

As adults, we need to mentor the young generation on sexual abstinence! What’s more, the family foundation is an important part in enculturing particularly boys against sleeping around as a form of  rite of passage. 

This conversation needs to be as dispassionately as possible. Ultimately, we must admit the fact that repercussions for irresponsible sex are worse for women, than they are for men. The writer is a communication expert, and public policy analyst. [email protected]

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