Age of consent not all about sex morality and religion
|Most readers know by now the background to this controversial matter which has sporadically for the last couple of years hit local headlines.
Although like me, many people have been asking this question 'was all this legal rumpus and vast court expense necessary? Was there really a requirement to bring this matter to the supreme court? Particularly if other important overriding factors connected to this issue are seriously taken into consideration?
UK also had to conform with a similar situation
In 1997 the European commission on human rights (echr) ruled on the equalisation of age of consent. In January 2001 the provisions of this act were introduced into the United Kingdom statute books. However, this happened after the echr ruled that the UK were violating their directives by a discriminatory age of consent (legislation similar to the one we have in Gibraltar) this on the grounds that there were no objective and reasonable justification for the law at the time to have maintained a higher minimum age for male homosexual acts. Gibraltar's position in this sense is the same as that of the United Kingdom before the EU intervened.
If you think that every year Gibraltar has to conform to hundreds of directives and EU laws which are passed in Brussels, laws which are later included into local legislation, the same process goes for every other EU member country. These are our responsibilities and form an important part of belonging to this EU club of nations!
Unfortunately the EU does not allow members to cherry-pick what directives they enact and discard those they don't like!
This is why I presume the British government has got itself involved in proceedings over here by putting its own arguments across as they did in court last week. Although there is still an earlier UK threat of some possible intervention by them still hanging, this if the outcome does not turn out as they think it legally should.
People have asked this question, 'have these judicial proceedings and years of continuous arguments and counter-arguments made this issue any clearer, particularly to the people that matter the most 'the young' frankly, I think it has only helped to confuse youngsters and adults even further.
All this not forgetting the enormous court expense, has it really all been justified? And I say again, considering the UK government had to change its own laws to meet these same echr directives, notwithstanding the strength of feeling in the UK at the time, on health, religious and moral grounds from those who opposed the changes to UK law!
Age of consent is designed to protect young and innocent children from physical and psychological harm caused by engaging in sexual intercourse before he or she is mature enough to consent to such activity. Although debate and argument surrounding this matter also raises the broader point of the role of the criminal law. Some argue that the function of the criminal law is to preserve public order and decency, but not to intervene in the private lives of citizens or seek to enforce any particular form of behaviour.
However on the opposing side, others argue that the criminal law has a responsibility to prevent harm to society stemming from the moral disintegration of society, and the law in this respect can intervene in both the private and public lives of individuals to uphold the shared morality of society.
Rise to other anomalies
The law as it stands today gives rise to a number of anomalies, and there's no doubt that this has always been the case. Like it or not, many youngsters today become sexually active as soon as they reach puberty, Gibraltar is no exception. Furthermore, nowadays more than ever before, young people also enjoy a far more active social life, this has to be accepted, and it is also conducive to more sexual activity. Technically and in the context of this article, a large percentage of our youngsters are breaking the law, even though, as a rule, parents and the powers-that-be more often than not have to turn a blind eye, because there is little they can do!
Youngsters these days are exposed to a constant ebb and flow of information and temptation, and consequently are more self-aware sexually, not to mention expressive than ever before. I'm not implying they're necessarily any wiser, but you can't legislate wisdom - anymore than you can morality!
However when you consider today's world of the young, 'does all this really make sense? This if you also consider many young people are opting for alternative lifestyles, such as cohabitation, and for various reasons refrain from marriage.
Many people think the law as it stands is indirectly penalising such alternative lifestyles. This is why there is a consensus of people who think the situation no longer makes sense. Simply because a good percentage of youngsters are opting for these alternative lifestyles, like living together with no strings attached and other reasons for not getting married.
At the end of the day the age of consent laws can either remain as they are which could create problems, or be amended so that they become gender-neutral. If this occurs, then in my view there are two options: the age of consent for females can be raised to 18 years, or the age of consent for males can be lowered to 16 years. The latter option would of course bring Gibraltar in line with the United Kingdom!
Responsible behaviour blurred
In fact many of our laws have blurred many lines, this when it comes to responsible behaviour! We often preach "rights and responsibilities" the law wants the parents to be responsible for their children without giving them the proper rights and the children to have rights without responsibilities. Once the child has made a decision based on whatever knowledge they have, they will follow through on those choices.
Many will not stop to think of the consequences. Unless society is consistent not only with its laws but on what rights and responsibilities they have, the lines will continually be blurred, not only for youngsters in society but for adults as well.
I've also heard the criticism about the narrow mindedness of those who think that once you reach the magical age of 18, you mysteriously become responsible enough to handle all these rights and responsibilities. Many youngsters feel there are plenty of 16 and 17 year olds who are mature enough to handle the responsibility of choosing to have sex or not, I don't doubt this. Similarly there are many 18 or 25 year olds who are not even mature enough to suck a lollipop, never mind have sex! But these are the risks of living in today's more promiscuous society!
In a perfect world we shouldn't really care at what age other places allow their young children to start having sex or not, but now a days international obligations and directives and European laws dictate otherwise.
Religious and moral objections
There were strong religious, moral and health objections to the bill proposed over 15 months ago by the justice minister, in fact this bill debated last year was also subject to a free vote of conscience in parliament that was defeated. But there are people like me who think, that this matter has never been dealt with properly by the politicians in the way it should have been.
I believe the age of consent decision is not only about sex, morality and religion in this community alone; globalisation of world societies has made this issue one of those many social subjects that transcends national borders.