By *Jeshua Bardoo
The reports in the media — what we may have heard about others and/or even some persons’ own experiences — may reveal to us that, among other things, the sexual abuse and exploitation of minors by adults is a very serious problem in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). However, what may sexual abuse and sexual exploitation in the context of the laws of SVG mean?
Section 2 of SVG’s Domestic Violence Act (2015) states that sexual abuse “means any sexual conduct that abuses, humiliates, degrades or otherwise violates the sexual integrity of the applicant”. Moreover, section 2 of SVG’s Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act (2011) states that sexual exploitation means compelling a person to engage in prostitution, the production of child pornography or other pornographic material, or by other sexual activity “by means of threat, coercion, abduction, the effects of drugs, force, fraud or abuse of power”.
Amongst other international treaties, SVG has ratified the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child. In 2017, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child noted in its “Concluding observations on the combined 2nd and 3rd periodic reports of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines : Committee on the Rights of the Child”, that it was concerned about “The persistently high prevalence of child abuse, including neglect and physical, sexual and emotional abuse and incest” in SVG. Moreover, it was also concerned that “Child prostitution is frequently justified by families and child victims themselves as a mechanism for coping with poverty” in SVG.
There are many laws that may concern and/or that may protect minors in SVG. However, for the purposes of this article, I will only be pointing out and/or discussing some of them.
Who is a minor you may ask? Section 2 of SVG’s Law of Minors Act states that a minor “means a person under the age of 18 years”.
Regarding the age of consent for sexual intercourse, section 125 (1) of SVG’s Criminal Code titled “Intercourse with a girl under 15”, states that “Any man who has sexual intercourse with a girl of or above the age of 13 but below the age of 15, is guilty of an offence and liable to imprisonment for five years”.
Based on section 125 (1) of SVG’s Criminal Code, even though a minor is a person who is under 18 years old in SVG, the minimum age that a female person can consent to engage in sexual intercourse is 15 years old. SVG’s Criminal Code does not appear to explicitly address the minimum age that a male person can give consent to sexual intercourse. It is my opinion that the relevant law(s) in SVG should be amended so that a male age of consent regarding sexual intercourse can be explicitly provided for.
Furthermore, even though a minor is a person who is under 18 years old in SVG, based on section 4 (1) of SVG’s Marriage Act titled “Age of marriage”, the minimum age that a female person can legally get married is age 15 and for a male person, it is age 16.
It is common knowledge that many married couples may, among other things, engage in sexual relations with each other. Based on section 4 (1) of SVG’s Marriage Act, in my current opinion, I would like to think and believe that at age 16, a male person in SVG may be legally able to give consent to sexual intercourse, since as the law currently stands, at the age of 16 a male person can legally get married in SVG.
However, in its 2017 “Concluding observations on the combined 2nd and 3rd periodic reports of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines: Committee on the Rights of the Child”, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child urged SVG to “expeditiously take measures to amend the Marriage Act (1926) to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 years for girls and boys, as part of the ongoing process of harmonising national legislation with the Convention”.
Regarding a female minor who maybe 15 years old and above but under the age of 18, who an adult may have unlawfully engaged in sexual intercourse with, that female minor may have recourse under section 123 of SVG’s Criminal Code titled “Rape”. Moreover, if the unlawful sexual act on a minor, who may be either a male or a female, is anal sex, a minor may have recourse under section 146 of SVG’s Criminal Code titled “Buggery”.
It is my respectful opinion that a separate section titled “Buggery” that covers anal sex in relation to persons may not be necessary since the definition of rape under SVG’s Criminal Code may be broadened, if it hasn’t already been, to include non-consensual sexual intercourse per anum. Moreover, I think that section 123 of SVG’s Criminal Code, should amongst other things, explicitly recognize and criminalize male rape, as I believe a male can also be raped by another male and by a female.
There are many other various sexual offences listed under SVG’s Criminal Code that may, among other things, be applicable to minors who are not legally able to consent to certain sexual acts and/or conduct, or who may be under the age of 18. Based on my reading of many of the sexual offences listed under SVG’s Criminal Code, though some of them do not explicitly exclude boys and men, many of them appear to be more explicitly focused on the protection of girls and women than boys and men.
If discussions surrounding reform have not already started, I think that this is an area of the law that could benefit from reform so that the laws of SVG can as much as reasonably practicable, be equally applied to both males and females or be gender-neutral, where such is not the current case under the relevant section(s) of SVG’s Criminal Code.
Moreover, SVG’s Domestic Violence Act offers different forms of protection to a minor who may be subject to domestic violence, which according to section 2 of the Domestic Violence Act can amongst other things, include “sexual abuse or threats of sexual abuse”. For instance, by virtue of section 5 of SVG’s Domestic Violence Act titled “Person entitled to apply for a protection order”, a child may be entitled to apply to the Family Court for a protection order through a parent or guardian, etc.
Additionally, among other things, section 14 of SVG’s Cybercrime Act, 2016, titled “Child Pornography” explicitly makes a person who intentionally produces, distributes, possesses, etc., child pornography on a computer system, etc., an offence in SVG.
Furthermore, section 5 (2) of SVG’s Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act titled “Offence of trafficking in persons”, states that “The recruitment, transportation, harbouring, or receipt of a child, or giving of payment or benefits to obtain the consent of a person having control of a child, for the purpose of exploitation, constitutes trafficking in persons…” which is an offence in SVG.
Minors are one of the most vulnerable groups of people in society. However, minors have rights and should be protected from adults who may seek to sexually abuse and exploit them. Sexual abuse and exploitation are very serious issues and they may have many immediate as well as long-lasting effects on victims and/or survivors who may be minors. If we haven’t already started, I urge us to work together, and/or individually as Vincentians, to help stop the sexual abuse and exploitation of minors in SVG. Thank you kindly for your time.
*Jeshua Bardoo is a 2012 Vincentian National Exhibition Scholar and a 2019/20 Chevening Scholar studying an LLM international human rights law at Brunel University London. He can be contacted at [email protected].
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].