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UNICEF clarifies data on age of sexual consent

Published:Tuesday | December 6, 2022 | 12:11 AM

UNICEF Jamaica has moved to clarify statements by Opposition Senator Damion Crawford last week about Jamaica’s school dropout rate’s link to teenage pregnancy and a recommendation to increase the age of sexual consent.

The international agency said the conclusion could give a misleading impression about its data and position on the issues.

In a press statement, UNICEF noted that in Jamaica, school attendance among children up to 16 years is almost universal – that is, close to 100 per cent – and this information is contained in the June 2021 Public Expenditure Review of the Education Sector in Jamaica, which is published by UNICEF and the World Bank.

It further explained that the percentage of 17- to 21-year-olds who did not complete secondary education (grade 11) and were not enrolled in formal education had fallen from 14 per cent in 2010 to 10 per cent in 2017, according to Jamaica’s Survey of Living Conditions. Also, about 90 per cent of 17- to 21-year-olds had completed education to at least the 11th grade or were otherwise enrolled in formal education.

A breakdown of those who had dropped out of the system reveals that only seven per cent of females and 14 per cent of males did not reach grade 11. Among girls and young women, the main reason given for not completing their education to grade 11 level was pregnancy, followed by “money problems”.

In the Senate last Friday, Opposition Spokesman on Education Damion Crawford said that the UNICEF study had indicated that the objective of a minimum age of sexual consent is to protect adolescents from sexual abuse and to safeguard them from the consequences of early sexual activity on their rights and on their development.

“One of the consequences of early sexual activity is that the young girls will become pregnant and lose their future,” Crawford said while making his contribution to the State of the Nation Debate.

He also added that the UNICEF study also stated that young adolescents may be lured into sexual activity by older adults in exchange for goods.

“Despite the misunderstanding of this data,” UNICEF said, “the issues raised in Parliament point to two serious challenges facing Jamaican girls.”

It named the issues as the coercion or luring of girls, mainly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, into early sexual activity by older adults and the inability of many girls to continue their education because of early pregnancy.

According to UNICEF, the minimum age of sexual consent aims to protect adolescents from sexual abuse and from the consequences of early sexual activity on their rights and development, including their right to an education.

It recommends that the legal minimum age for sexual consent should take in the evolving capacities of adolescents and balance this with their protection. It also recommends that close-in-age exceptions be made when it comes to sexual activity between two adolescents.

“In fact, a Joint Select Committee of Parliament deliberated the issue in 2018 and agreed that close-in-age exceptions should be considered under the law,” it pointed out.