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Jeshua Bardoo is a Vincentian barrister-at-law and solicitor.
Jeshua Bardoo is a Vincentian barrister-at-law and solicitor.

By *Jeshua Bardoo

Recently, disheartening news broke that 191 teenage pregnancies were recorded in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) in 2023. Even more shocking is the fact that it was reported that the youngest girl to give birth was only 10 years old!

This news further highlights the deplorable state of affairs in SVG when it comes to child sexual abuse, and quite frankly, a culture of rape that pervades Vincentian society, and how it impacts the youngest, most vulnerable, and disadvantaged among us.

Very worrying is whether any of these underage pregnancies were investigated, and if an illegal act was committed, were any arrests made? A 10-year-old girl cannot give birth to a baby on her own, there has to be a father or someone somewhere who impregnated her. If the father of the child is a big “hard-back” man then it is even more shameful!

In SVG, the age of sexual consent for girls is 15 years old. Any big “hard-back” man who engages in sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 15 years old is committing a criminal offence. It does not matter if she said yes or even if she begged you to have sex with her. A girl under the age of 15 years old cannot legally consent to sexual intercourse in SVG. It is statutory rape to have sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 15 years old in SVG.

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The relevant statutory rape provisions can be found under sections 124 and 125 of SVG’s Criminal Code. Section 124 titled “Intercourse with a girl under thirteen” states that, “Any man who has sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of thirteen is guilty of an offence and liable to imprisonment for life”.

Moreover, before the recent amendments to section 125 (1), section 125 titled “Intercourse with a girl under fifteen”, stated that, “(1) Any man who has sexual intercourse with a girl of or above the age of thirteen but below the age of fifteen, is guilty of an offence and liable to imprisonment for five years. (2) A man is not guilty of an offence under this section if he is under the age of nineteen years and has not previously been charged with a like offence and, at the time of the intercourse, he believed the girl to be of or over the age of fifteen and had reasonable cause for that belief”. With the recent amendments to section 125 (1) of the Criminal Code, the State has increased the maximum sentence of imprisonment to 15 years instead of five years.

Despite these provisions, which in my respectful opinion need urgent updating, many of our children, and in particular our young girls, remain vulnerable and are disproportionately affected by various forms of sexual abuse in Vincentian society. This vulnerability is further exacerbated by other intersecting factors such as socioeconomic status, disability, and/or race. A sad state of affairs even exists in the country where some parents might be selling their children to other adults for sex in exchange for money to put food on the table and pay the bills. Please be reminded that prostituting young girls and child sex trafficking are still offences under the laws of SVG.

Parents, guardians, family members, teachers, and even police officers, if you know that a young girl is being sexually abused in SVG, report this matter to the relevant authorities. Sexual abuse is nothing to play with as it carries risks of not only pregnancy but STIs, including HIV/AIDS, and even physical harm to the genitals. Not only can physical health be affected but so also can the mental health of a victim of sexual abuse, impacting them well into their adult life long after the traumatic event/s. If you know of a child being abused and you do not report the matter, you could be liable for an offence under the Children (Care and Adoption) Act.

It is unfortunate that we currently live in a society that has outdated laws to deal with various issues of child abuse, especially sexual abuse. It is even sadder that more appropriate facilities or resources do not appear to currently exist or be readily available in the State to offer better protection to abused children, especially our young girls.

Today, I urge all Vincentians to be alert and to work to protect our young girls from men who may seek to sexually abuse, exploit, and impregnate them. These actions violate the rights of girl children and must be strongly condemned.

*Jeshua Bardoo is a Vincentian lawyer with an LLM in international human rights law. He is also the Founder and President of Equal Rights, Access and Opportunities SVG Inc. He can be contacted via email at [email protected]

The opinions presented in this content belong to the author and may not necessarily reflect the perspectives or editorial stance of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

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