I did mention that a few heavy-duty topics have been in the Jamaican news over the past few weeks. Here is one that I had not touched on at all (and, in fact, it has not had great prominence in the news either, since our local media has been preoccupied with politics and scandals. More on that anon).
The issue of amendments to the Sexual Offences Act has dragged on for a long time, it seems to me. However, after all the discussions and reviews, the Joint Select Committee of Parliament established to review the Sexual Offences Act and related Acts have produced their report, which backs away from several critical pieces of legislation (despite the recommendations of Jamaica AIDS Support for Life, back in 2016).
“I think this approach by the committee was quite cowardly,”said human rights lawyer Tenesha Myrie and JASL’s Policy & Advocacy Officer Patrick Lalor. Ms. Myrie noted that, while “some gains were made,” largely due to energetic advocacy from civil society, the report released on December 11 – but that major concerns remain.
When are our political leaders going to become enlightened on matters relating to sexual behaviour? What are they afraid of? As Ms. Myrie says:
It is a dangerous approach, as historical movements have taught us that the fight for recognition of each person’s humanity and dignity should never be left to the ‘tyranny of the majority’. Going forward, the Parliament of Jamaica must ensure that any and all changes to the sexual offences laws and related laws are done in a way that provides equal protection for all persons in Jamaica.
Here is JASL’s press release from last week:
JASL Disappointed with the SOA Report from the Joint Select Committee of Parliament
Friday, December 14, 2018. KINGSTON, Jamaica – Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL) notes with disappointment the decision by the Joint Select Committee of Parliament (JSCP) established to review the Sexual Offences Act and other related Acts, not to amend several key pieces of legislation aimed at protecting the most vulnerable populations from violence and abuse, in keeping with the organisation’s 2016 recommendations.
The Report of the JSCP, which comes more than a year after the Committee heard submissions and held a retreat to discuss the matter, failed to consider and review critical existing pieces of legislation which purport, among other things, to protect women, children, the disabled and the elderly from violence and abuse, with particular emphasis on the offences and punishment under these pieces of legislation.
JASL notes that the JSCP found common ground on recommendations such as the removal of marital rape, the restricting of Sections 23(i) to decriminalise specific beneficiaries of sex work; and suggested increases in the fines for breaches of protection orders, even proposing a review of the Domestic Violence Act. Notwithstanding, JASL is disturbed by the fact that the JSCP largely avoided dealing with the overarching public health-related issues raised in its submission.
Among the recommendations the Committee failed to amend are i) broadening the Sexual Offences Act to adopt a gender-neutral language throughout the Act; ii) broadening the definition of Sexual Intercourse to include the penetration of the mouth or anus by a penis, or any other body part or object and iii) broadening the offence of Rape to include non-consensual penetration of the mouth or anus by a penis or object.
The Committee also failed to act in the interest of Jamaica’s youth by refusing to amend legislation to allow persons under the age of sixteen to be provided with sexual and reproductive health services, commodities and information without parental consent, in specific circumstances, and providing immunity from prosecution for Health Care Professionals who provide such services in the clinical and best interest of the minor.
JASL is further disheartened that the Committee saw it fit to include the criminalisation of willful transmission of sexually transmitted infections including HIV, a move considered retrograde of any Parliamentary Committee given that countries around the world are moving away from this having realized its deleterious effects on public health.
JASL believes that a more comprehensive discussion on the matters is imminent if, as a society, we are to adequately address the needs of the vulnerable and safeguard the nation’s health.
CONTACT: Robyn Miller
Project & Communications Coordinator
Telephone: (876) 925-0021/22, 969-0282/6597
Mobile: (876) 347-3575