birth controlBRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Nov 27 – On average, 62 per cent of first sexual intercourse of adolescents in the Caribbean is voluntary.

So, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the minimum age at which adolescents can legally engage in sexual intercourse can therefore be seen as an important tool in protecting adolescents from individuals who may seek to take advantage of them, resulting – in some cases – in young girls being left with the burden of motherhood at an early age.

“This is particularly relevant when viewed against the backdrop of low ages of sexual initiation,” it says.

The age of consent for sexual intercourse slightly varies among countries of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). For example, the minimum age for consent is 16 in all OECS nations except St. Vincent and the Grenadines, where it is 15.

However, one of the outcomes of the Integrated Strategic Framework for the Reduction of Adolescent Pregnancy in the Caribbean, which was developed by the UNFPA in conjunction with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), is for 16 to be set in legislation as the standard minimum age across the region.

Included in that legislation, the framework states, should be a complete removal of the honest belief defence which current exists – where an individual would not be convicted of having sexual intercourse with a minor if the offender was under the reasonable belief that the minor had reached the age of consent – as well as bars to prosecution.

“However, the close in age exception as adopted in Guyana, whereby adolescents within two to three years of each other would not be guilty of the offence, seems a rationale compromise to address the consensual sexual relationships among adolescents,” it adds.

However, that provision would exclude persons in a familial relationship, positions of trust and circumstances with any element of exploitation, coercion, threat, deception, grooming or manipulation in the relationship.

The UNFPA says such legal standards comply with international obligations, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), to which CARICOM nations have agreed.

ENDS