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Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves speaking in an April 4, 2024 photo.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves speaking in an April 4, 2024 photo.
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Amidst the debate about increasing the age of consent, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says he sees a stronger case for moving it from 15 to 16, where it was in the 1960s.

“Now the general public in an informed way could have a conversation on this,” Gonsalves said on NBC Radio when asked about increasing the age of consent.

“I know this conversation has been going on. I don’t know if you know that prior to the 1960s, early 1960s as I remember it, the age of consent was 16. The Joshua government reduced it to 15,” he said. 

Gonsalves, who is also minister of legal affairs, noted that some people say the age of consent should be 18, the same as the voting age.

“I don’t know if that is the sense of the bulk of the people in the country or a smaller group of people,” he said, even as he noted that some people have even suggested that it be raised to 21.

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“You have to have an age … which is a balance between where somebody is of an age might be able to consent properly and where they may not be able to consent,” Gonsalves said. 

The prime minister said the law is sensitive that in a practical world, teenagers will have sex. 

“I’m not making a moral point as to whether they should have sex. I’m living in the world that they do have sex.”

Gonsalves noted that under the New Democratic Party administration, when the late Parnell Campbell was attorney general, the law was amended to allow a defence for a male under the age of 19 who has sex with a girl between 13 to 15 years old if he honestly believed that she was over 15 or she held herself out to be over 15.

“… he could have a defence, provided is only one time he was ever charged,” the prime minister said.

“Now if you carry the age of consent to 18, you are liable to jail a lotta young men of 18 or 19 who have sex with a 17-year-old,” Gonsalves said, adding, “You see how the discussion has to be rational and balanced. 

“And then when the sons of the mothers in the church — I ain’t talking about on the street — get jailed, ‘the girl is a big woman; she’s 17.’

“So there may be a stronger case to put it back to 16,” Gonsalves said, adding, “This is a matter in which I’d like to hear more conversations, but I give you, as a sensible and wise and mature lawmaker, the balance which you have to [have].”

He noted that the law clearly says that someone under the age of 15 cannot consent to sex.

“… that child cannot give you consent,” he said, noting that with the amended law, the penalty is now a maximum of life imprisonment. 

“Of course, the person doesn’t get to life. They have all these discounts which they give. I would expect a person will get something near to what is a natural lifespan if it included extraordinary violence and so on and so forth. 

“But the judges, they have their own guidelines within which when they take the laws as they are made by the Parliament, so hardly anybody gets the maximum. 

“That’s how the judges fashion their guidelines. That is why sometimes you have to make the maximum higher if you think, as we have done, for instance, recently for a series of sexual offences. So it could be that there may be a case for that, carrying it to 16.”

The prime minister said that the same issue arises concerning “young men in schools, 17-year-old young men. 

“But some of the challenges even currently with under 15 is the problem of the reportage,” he said, noting that under the Child (Care and Adoption) Act, the doctor and other professionals who interface with a pregnant child must report the pregnancy to the police.

The prime minister, however, noted that sometimes the case is reported to the police but neither the child nor her parents gives information. 

“So you can carry  the age a little higher for consent but some of those issues remain.”

The prime minister was speaking days after Opposition lawmaker Daniel Cummings suggested that a law be passed to provide that “where there are reasonable grounds” all men “associated” with an underaged girl who gets pregnant undergo mandatory DNA testing

Gonsalves said he is listening to the ongoing discussion about the age of consent.

“But you can’t have the discussions in any demagogic or opportunistic manner. You have to have it in a sensible, balanced way. I’m not dealing now with morality,” he said.

“Everybody tells their sons and daughters do not have premarital sex. But I think most people will say that throughout human civilisation, that parental advice, certainly in the modern period, has not been very much observed by the children.”

Responding to a question, Gonsalves, a lawyer, says that in SVG, someone can get married at age 18 without the consent of their parent.

However, if they are above 16 but below 18, their parents have to consent to the marriage. 

“That’s why I said 16. Some people plausibly and more persuasively argued to carry it back to 16,” he said, adding that there had always been “all kinds of different suggestions” as to why the Joshua government had changed it from 16 to 15”.  

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