Bill will legalise teenage sex

2014-11-16 15:46

A controversial amendment bill that will legalise sex between teenagers will be tabled in Parliament within the next month.

This was according to Deputy Minister of Justice John Jeffery, who told the portfolio committee on justice on Thursday the bill was in the final stages of the Cabinet cycle.

The amendments to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act make it legal for teenagers between the ages of 12 and 16 to enter into consensual sexual relationships with one another provided the age difference between them is not more than two years.

Previously, both children involved in sexual activities could be prosecuted in terms of the act, even for something as seemingly innocent as kissing.

But the new act means, for example, that a 15-year-old could, strictly speaking, still be prosecuted for sexual activity with a 12-year-old, because the age difference is more than two years.

This follows a ruling by the Constitutional Court last year, which found adolescents’ rights were violated by the criminalisation of consensual sex.

But despite the Constitutional Court ruling, the controversial bill could still lead to a major dispute in Parliament. A group of nongovernmental organisations feels the law does not protect the rights of children adequately, while at least one political party feels the law must still criminalise sex between teenagers to some extent.

The 19 nongovernmental organisations – which include the Centre for Child Law, Childline SA, Lawyers for Human Rights, Teddy Bear Clinic and Women’s Legal Centre – think the amendment still “contains signs of the prosecution of adolescents”.

According to the NGOs’ submission on the amendment bill, all sexual behaviour between children aged between 12 and 16 should be legal.

“We would therefore propose alternative amendment provisions aimed at decriminalising consensual sexual conduct between children in the 12- to 16-year-old category [in total],” it reads.

The NGOs’ amendments will mean that the age gap of two years would not apply to this age group, but only to 17- and 18-year-olds.

Steve Swart, an ACDP MP and member of the portfolio committee on justice, said there was “still a lot of unhappiness about the decriminalising of sex even if it is consensual sex between teenagers in view of the high levels of HIV/Aids, teenage pregnancies and abuse”.

“We would ideally like to keep criminalisation, but introduce alternative interventions, even from the department of social development…” said Swart.

Talk to us: Do you think consensual sexual activity between teens should be legal?

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